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History of Mountain Empire Community College

The First 30 Years

Van Perry Rose Associate Professor of English 1973-2008

Layout and Design: MECC Community Relations Office Printing: MECC Print Shop 2010


Acknowledgements The work of collecting data and writing the history of Mountain Empire Community College spanned decades. William Mel Bullock and Martha Rhoton laid the groundwork for everything to follow. Mel began collecting news releases and old newspaper clippings during the 1980s. Martha spent many hours over several years gathering documents, clipping them from various publications and storing them in a history scrapbook. Their work made researching and writing the history possible. After Mel and Martha retired, Jamie Hendrick and Mary Lyons continued to collect materials for the nineties and after 2000. Jamie also helped with finding specific documents and with locating and scanning photographs from the archives. John Cotham managed the library archives with its many records of college activities and personnel. Leah Hicks and Shirley Wells are the historians of this history. They contributed most of the time, work, and materials to its foundation. Beginning in early 2005, Shirley and Leah collected news from the seventies, eighties, and nineties and began interviewing college personnel as well as College Board members. Leah and Shirley wrote much of MECC’s story during the seventies and eighties. For more than two years, Leah and Shirley, although retired from state employment, spent many days and gave indefatigable effort to the project. Without their work, this document would not be complete today. Jamie Buckles, Michael Gilley, and Sharon Fisher formed an editorial board that provided guidance and advice on everything from researching and verifying information to data accuracy, layout, organization and style. Their work was essential to finishing the manuscript. Sharon Fisher and Vickie Ratliff managed a staff charged with formatting text, layout, and pictures. That staff of four students—Angela Akers, Lisa Cheek, Deidra Mullins, and Susan Thomas—worked diligently for a full semester to re-format more than 300 pages of draft text and to add indexes and photo collages into a final copy. Their work brought the history closer to its final form. Lana Kennedy put the finishing touches on the final copy. Her professional skills were essential to preparing the work for printing. For the printing, Preston Layne brought his keen eye for textual and visual insight, guiding the project with his professional knowledge and experience, quality traits that proved critical to the final document. But none of this work would have happened without the commitment and dedication of MECC’s President, Dr. Terrance Suarez. Dr. Suarez initiated work on the history with Leah Hicks and Shirley Wells. His commitment did not falter. He stayed with the project though delays and setbacks and has kept his personal pledge to see a history of Mountain Empire Community College in print. He has been the force behind the scene. Of course, many people within the college and the community contributed to MECC’s history through their lives, their work, and their contributions through participation and personal reflections. The list is too long to name here, but thanks go out to all who lived and told the college’s history. On a final note, data for the writing of MECC’s history came mostly from college library archives, news print stories, college news releases, personal anecdotes, and other college documents. When information was taken broadly to cover daily events and recordings, that data was not formally documented with the understanding that such information came from archived materials. Much has been covered in the history, yet so much more has been left out. The joy and meaning of a written history comes not only from facts but also from memories. 


Prologue —— Impressions Of MECC’s 5th President —— I began my tenure as President of Mountain Empire Community College on January 3, 2002. Of course, I had already been to the college on several occasions; the two most recent being the day-long interviews that took place on November 7, 2001, and again right before the Christmas holidays to attend the formal announcement of the Slemp Foundation’s $1 million gift that kicked off the MECC Foundation’s Major Gift Campaign. There were earlier visits; I worked for more than 20 years at Wytheville Community College, a sister institution in Southwest Virginia. The five community colleges in Southwest Virginia have had a long history of cooperative projects and I came on campus frequently for meetings associated with those projects. One example of a cooperative project took place in the mid-80s when the five community colleges agreed to join together in a faculty and administrator professional development project. It was one of the very first peer-to-peer development activities in the Virginia Community College System in which science faculty met with other science faculty, nursing faculty met with other nursing faculty, business faculty met with other business faculty and so on. Over a five-year period, each institution, including Mountain Empire Community College, hosted two days of development activities on its campus. All of this is to say I had many opportunities to be impressed by Mountain Empire Community College. From my first visit, I was, and continue to be, impressed by the sheer beauty of the campus. It is, without question, one of the most attractive campuses in the Virginia Community College System. Its cleanliness and landscaping speak volumes of the pride of the employees, especially the Buildings and Grounds crew, in their campus. PhillipsTaylor Hall, completed and occupied only a short time before I became President, was one of the first I had seen that focused on color and light and that welcomed students and the community. Holton Hall was, as I remember from earlier visits, dark and foreboding, and handicapped inaccessible. Renovations, completed shortly after I arrived, transformed that building into an open and welcoming student-friendly center. I am also impressed by the student-centered reputation that the college enjoys. Few other


community colleges in Virginia have had quite the same positive impact on its service region as has Mountain Empire Community College. The college’s service region, one of the most disadvantaged in the state, relied for many years on mining and manufacturing industries. Because these industries did not require secondary and post-secondary education of their prospective employees, the region did not develop an appreciation of the value of education or a “Culture of Education,” a term used by Delegate Clarence “Bud” Phillips when he spoke at my first MECC graduation. Even without this “Culture of Education,” the college has impressively enrolled a percentage of its population that remains among the top five in the state. This impressive accomplishment stands as a testament to the effort of the college in recruiting and in providing the necessary financial assistance to its students. While mining continues to play an important role in the economic well being of the region, the region has had to focus on diversifying its economy. Among those efforts are the development of the prison and law enforcement industry and the health industry. The college is crucial in providing critical degree programs and workforce development training for each of these areas. Most recently the region has expanded its information technology capacities with the installation of a redundant, high density fiber optic cable system and in bringing high technology companies to the area and, again, the college has provided the critical degree programs and training. It could well be argued that these diversification efforts might not have been as successful without the workforce training resources the college provides. Two other college ventures related to community culture and arts impressed me as well. The Home Craft Days, which will soon celebrate its 40th year, has helped keep the spirit and practice of regional crafts and regional music alive and well. The regional Pro Art program, in which the college has been an active partner, brings a wide variety of cultural arts events to the college and to the region. In my mind, there are no other programs in rural Virginia that are as successful in providing access to cultural arts for the students and the community as Pro Art. While all of these impressions of Mountain Empire Community College are important, my most lasting impression is of the college’s people. The faculty, staff, administrators, Local Board members, Foundation Board members and other volunteers who constitute our college community are the ones who are truly responsible for the success of Mountain Empire Community College, the community’s college. These dedicated and hard working men and women really care for their community, their college, and their students. I remain in awe of these people. While the college has taken on new, young faculty, staff and administrators who are demonstrating they have the energy and dedication to move the college forward in the coming years, many veterans who were here when the college began have retired or are reaching retirement age. Unless steps are taken, their legacy might remain untold and be forgotten. My last impression is that this story needs to be told and documented. What follows is a cultural history of the first 30 years of Mountain Empire Community College, complete with facts, figures, pictures, and stories. My only request of you, the reader, is to relax, read, and remember.


Table of Contents Origins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Five Years in the Making. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 First Local Board Meets and Chooses College Name. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Constructing and Staffing the College . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Dr. George B. Vaughan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Comments on George Vaughan - 1972-1978. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 September 1972: The College Opens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 MECC Receives First Community College FIPSE Grant. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Home Craft Days - The Beginning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Learning in Transit (LIT). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 I Owe Most of it to Bonnie Elosser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 A Day Without the Sunset Was Not a Complete Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Streaking at MECC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 The College Faces Change - 1974-1978 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Do You Remember the Grand Cracker’s Neck Marathon?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Jim Carter - Dean of Instruction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 MECC Criminal Justice Program - Then and Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Leadership Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 College Children’s Christmas Series . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Dr. Victor B. Ficker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 The Day Liz Taylor (and Husband) Came to Big Stone Gap. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 1979. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 Whatever Happened to the BB&B BBQ?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 The 1980’s: Growth and Change . . . and New Directions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 Dalton-Cantrell Hall (1979-1984) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 MECC Education Foundation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Dual Enrollment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 Mining Programs Grow. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Other Programs and Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Fall Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 Mid-Decade, and Growth Abounds. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 1986 - Still Growing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 Growth and Success for Annual Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122 The World According to Janet Lester (circa 1986) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124 Summer Successes and Dungannon Miracles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125 New Faces, New Programs, More Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 Glamour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 1987: A Year of Growth, Awards, Expansion, and Momentous Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 Ficker Wins Beamer Award . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Writing, Literacy, and Drama. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131 Graduation Numbers High Again and College Hires More Personnel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 Stronger Ties. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134 Expansion into Dickenson County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 College Efforts Grow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 Management Audit Brings Many Changes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139 Faculty Assembly - Faculty Senate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140 The College Moves Forward . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 California Raisins Perform “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” at MECC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143 1988 Brings Transition and New Beginning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144 Dr. Ruth Smith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 “Yes, You Can!” Student GAINs at MECC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149 Robb Hall, 1984-1988. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151 MECC Gets DMME Building. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154 Admissions and Records Win Again . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155 1989 Marks Big Changes in Classes, More Building Space, and no Dipping, no Smoking, no Chewing . . . 156 Annual Activities Continue with More Successes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156


The Nineties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Budget Cuts Donations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ben Wheless - Chairman of Arts and Sciences, 1972-1991 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Contributions and Head Start. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MECC Continues its Rich Tradition of Arts and Crafts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Honors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Transitions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1991. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Budget Cuts Do Not Stop Cultural Activities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Commencements and Goings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dr. Robert Sandel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . What Others Say About President Robert Sandel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1992 - Celebrating Twenty Years of Service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Promotions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Twenty Years and Growing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Twenty Years Later . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1993 - Beautiful Minds and Promising Future after 20 Years . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Graduation and Honorees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Technology First - Two-Way Fiber-Optics Classrooms at MECC. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1994. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MECC Trekker’s Club . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MECC Dedicates its Library to Honor Wamplers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Appointments and Promotions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reflections on Mountain Empire by E. C. Sumpter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1995. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gerry Laney - Assistant Professor of Drafting. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rising Tuition/Scholarship Donations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sydow Named Dean . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . More Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1996. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Meeting Students’ Needs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1997. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kinflicks Come to MECC. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Day John Taught Pavlina How To Drive. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 Was a Year of Donations and Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1998. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sandal’s Promise of Big Gift from Mysterious Donors Comes True. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sydow Leads Technology Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Elosser Redux . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Home Crafts One More Time and Santa Too. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1999 - Closing the Century. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . RCCI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Enrollments up; Donations Arrive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Phillips-Taylor Hall. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reflections on MECC by Carolyn Helms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Entering a New Century. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2001. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . September 11, 2001 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Epilogue. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Memorial: Martha Turnage. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . MECC: An Emerging Concept - Address to Faculty by President Vaughan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Foundation Board Members . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Local Board Members . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Employees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Headcount . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Many Faces of MECC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

161 162 164 166 167 169 170 171 172 173 175 180 181 181 184 186 188 190 194 197 197 198 198 201 203 204 205 207 208 210 212 217 219 219 220 222 224 224 225 225 227 228 229 231 233 236 242 246 252 254 256 260 262 264 269 270 275


History of Mountain Empire Community College: The First 30 Years

Origins The origin of the title “Mountain Empire” cannot be easily traced. References to it occurred as early as the mid-nineteenth century. Two attributes, however, distinguish the area known as the “Mountain Empire” from its beginning until the present: the crowning beauty of the landscape and the riches embedded within the region. Jon L. Wakelyn reports that the phrase Mountain Empire occurred as early as 1861, describing it as “a region of 300,000 square miles,” in “a bed of mountains abutting on the left bank of the Ohio, which covers all of Western Virginia . . . .” (1999) Indeed, various allusions to the Mountain Empire include the mountains of Pennsylvania across western Maryland and down the Appalachian ranges through Tennessee all the way to northern Alabama. The region consisted of three major ranges—the Blue Ridge, the Smokies and Unakas, and the Cumberlands. (1934) A 1939 reference defines the Mountain Empire Region more closely. “The southwestern part of the State of Virginia is often designated the Mountain Empire because its mountain ranges are rich in scenic beauty and fertile valleys. It is a blue grass region famous for producing fine beef cattle, and it is one of the richest sections of the state.” (Harding, 1939) The discovery of coal established Wise County as the seat of the Mountain Empire. Knowledge that abundant coal lay beneath the Cumberland hills extended back to 1749 when Dr. Thomas Walker of Albemarle County explored the western parts of Virginia. Not until 1872, however, when General John Daniel Emboden published a book on the mineral resources in Virginia was development deemed feasible. Seven years later he spoke in Pittsburg, where he lived, about the rich coal deposits. (Hinklin, Summer 1971) First published in 1890, The Big Stone Post encouraged investment in the coal industry around Big Stone during the last decade of the nineteenth century. A great financial interest arose out of the production of high quality coke. Prospects of a flourishing Big Stone Gap aroused hopes that it would be the “the Pittsburg of the South” and people began to refer to the Wise County area as “The Seat of the Empire.’ (Sear , 1890) 1


The use of “Mountain Empire,” however, continues until today to refer to a wide region. It is commonly used for naming businesses, landmarks, and organizations. Although Wise County and Big Stone Gap may claim to be the center of the Empire, perhaps supported by the influences of John Fox, Jr.’s novels and the coal industry, numerous other communities still use the name.

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Five Years in the Making

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ECC should have been one of the first community colleges established in Virginia. It was almost the last.

MECC should have been one of the first community colleges established in Virginia. It was almost the last. The Higher Education Study Commission and the Virginia Community College Board planned to develop a series of community colleges across Virginia. The design was to make higher education available to 98 - 99% of citizens in each of the state’s service areas.

The State Board for Community Colleges commissioned consultant Eric Rhoads to develop a community college master plan. His paper, “A Proposed Master Plan for a State-Wide System of Community College Education in Virginia,” published in 1967, called for 22 college regions (later changed to 23 college regions). The plan designated the area encompassing the City of Norton and the Counties of Lee, Wise, Scott, and the western part of Dickenson in Southwest Virginia as Region 14. Region 14, the LENOWISCO area, had the greatest need for education for young people, according to the study. However, the state decided to allow localities to choose their sites for community colleges. (Robinette, 2009) The Board’s findings concerning the need for education were verified later, when the college began its first year’s enrollment. In a demographic assessment, Bonnie Elosser, Director of Financial Aid, reported that: Preparation of the first application for student financial aid was a “bear” and I had to gather mountains of statistics and a great deal of demographic information as well. The thing that struck me as I amassed the volumes of information was the very low level of income of the inhabitants of the region. The other overwhelming piece of information I gathered that was extremely shocking was the number of disabled individuals we have in the MECC service area! When I conducted an internal audit of financial aid records several years later – I was astounded by how many of the parents of our students and how many of our students as well were disabled. And, they were disabled at such a young age. I think the average age of those folks during the first few years was in the early 40s. The figures were so alarming that the federal government seriously challenged them on a number of occasions, and we had to verify this information repeatedly – they simply did not believe our incomes were so low. They also questioned the number of disabled individuals we had on record. – Bonnie Elosser The first question was “Where will the college be located?” Had the Virginia Community College Board chosen the college’s site, its members probably would have looked for a central location in the LENOWISCO district to assure reasonable commuting distances. The geographic and population centers were both located in Hoot Owl Hollow at the top of the mountain above Big 3


Stone Gap. Other important considerations were that the college be located near a four-lane road and have adequate water and sewer services. With localities deciding the site, however, problems developed when different political subdivisions began vying for the college to be located in their county or city. Wise County and Scott County became the major competitors, with Scott County wanting the college located in Duffield and Wise County wanting the college near Big Stone Gap. Scott County was led by Billy Frazier, who was a member of the Scott County Board of Supervisors and a member of the LENOWISCO Board. W. P. Kanto, a member of the State Community College Board, the Norton City School Board, and on the LENOWISCO Board, represented Wise County’s efforts. The Executive Director of LENOWISCO was Bruce K. Robinette. When I reported to the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission in June 1968 as Executive Director, the agency was called the Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission. It did not become a planning district until July 1, 1969. There was going to be a college located in every district within commuting distance of some 98 – 99 percent of Virginia’s citizens. The one for the far southwest area was to serve the counties of Wise, Scott, Lee, the City of Norton and half of Dickenson County.

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In my first official board meeting at LENOWISCO, I was n my first official board instructed by the board members that I would have nothing meeting at LENOWISCO, to do with the community college site issue. That issue was to be handled by others and LENOWISCO would stay I was instructed by the out of it. I did not voice my opinion, but I did feel that at board members that I would the LENOWISCO table all localities, with the exception have nothing to do with the of Dickenson County, was where the issues should have community college site issue. been resolved, and we should close the doors and take all the engineering and the socio-political information and come up with a suitable 100-acre site. While this [site discussion] that began in 1967 continued through 1968, the college in Northern Virginia and Virginia Western in Roanoke opened. Blue Ridge in Weyers Cave and Southwest at Richlands opened in 1967 – 1968, and Virginia Highlands opened in 1969. Why didn’t we have a college site earlier than the other areas? We could not agree on the site. Conflicts existed across county lines; however, thanks to LENOWISCO’s success through the years, we have not been long-term disagreeable. The conflicts continued until Linwood Holton, a native of Big Stone Gap, was elected governor in November 1969. He was inaugurated on January 9, 1970. Billy Frazier was Governor Holton’s campaign chairman. Frazier was very close to Governor Holton. Contrary to that, W. P. Kanto was a leading Harry Byrd Democrat and he did not have political clout with Holton. Years later Governor Holton told me that when he was elected he called Billy Frazier and said, “Billy, that college is not going to Duffield because it would extend an increased hardship on people of Dickenson County. Route 23 is not close to being completed and that college serves half of Dickenson County just as importantly as it serves Scott County. Another issue, if it goes to 4


Duffield or close to the Tennessee line, it will be more convenient for Tennessee’s young people than it would be for those in northern Wise County and Dickenson County.” About two weeks after Governor Holton was inaugurated, I received a call from Mr. T. Edward Temple, the governor’s Secretary of Administration, with whom I was acquainted. His department oversaw the regional planning commissions and planning district commissions. Mr. Temple said, “Bruce, I have just left a meeting with the governor, and he specifically told me to call. Here are his instructions: If you cannot find a suitable site within days, he is going to wash his hands of the community college during his term. He has been inundated with phone calls and mail from this area. Wise County wants the college in Wise County; Scott County wants it in Scott County. “Governor Holton knows that you will make an unbiased choice based upon what would be the best for all the people there. I’ve heard you say that LENOWISCO should have solved this problem in 1967. “Here are your instructions: By Monday morning, provide me (Temple) with a recommended site south of Big Stone Gap and north of Duffield. It has to be on Route 23 and it cannot be in Duffield and it cannot be in Big Stone Gap. It doesn’t make any difference which county it is in because all three counties border Route 23 between Big Stone Gap and Duffield.” [This order from Governor Holton’s office was in direct conflict with my earlier orders from LENOWISCO’s Board not to take any part in choosing the college site.] Philip Gross was on the LENOWISCO staff. He came from Prince William County, Virginia, where he was a zoning administrator. He was LENOWISCO’s first regional planner. He was an excellent land-use planner. He knew nothing about local politics, a fact that made him a good choice for helping to choose the college’s site. Immediately after I hung up the phone with Mr. Temple, I told Phil what our charge was and that it could not ever be revealed or we would both be fired because we had been told pointedly by the LENOWISCO Board that we could not participate in any way in choosing the site. I said, “I think the governor’s instructions take precedence over our Board of Directors who pay our salaries.” Due to his excellent skills in land use and his separation from local politics, I asked Phil to meet with me on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. with maps of the area between Big Stone Gap and Duffield. The next morning we drove to Duffield at 35 – 40 miles an hour in our old staff car with our fourway flashers on and our government tags. We looked important. We made that trip between Big Stone and Duffield eight times that morning. Our only site of minor interest thus far was the Clark Farm and environs located in the Jasper community almost midway between Big Stone Gap and Duffield. The absence of accessible water and sewer, the presence of a railroad grade crossing, and the certainty of placing a great financial burden on Lee County caused us major concerns. At lunch we stopped at the Highlands Restaurant at the Phillips 66 Station where the old building still sits. While we were having lunch beside a large plate glass window, I noticed Phil looking at the hill where the college is now, and he noticed that I was e looked at me and looking. There were the remnants of an old sawmill there. said, “Are you thinking And we knew that the four-lane road would traverse the what I’m thinking?” hill.

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He looked at me and said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Is that land available?” I said, “I think it is.” We walked up the hill to where the DMME building is now. It was a most prestigious site. We looked down on the neighborhood, the community, and Southwest Oil Company. I asked Phil, “Can you visualize four-lane 23 bordering this property?” And he said, “What is our charge?” I said, “Our charge is to come up with a site. We don’t have anything to do with its purchase or whatever.” Phil asked, “Will this qualify?” I said, “According to our instructions from the governor via Mr. Temple, it qualifies.” Phil’s contributions to choosing that site were invaluable. He was a great help to me, he was unbiased, dedicated, and expeditious in finding the best site for all constituencies. On Monday, I called Mr. Temple and said, “We have a site.”

Bruce K. Robinette at the twin water tank site, the highest point in the Duffield Industrial Park looking north.

After many months of frustrating lobbying by the counties, on July 24, 1969, E. B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges, announced the State Board voted unanimously that the site for the Region 14 community college would be in Wise County near the town of Big Stone Gap. The chairman indicated that the board believed that a community college located there would provide greatly needed opportunities for this Southwest Virginia “Mountain Empire.” In the end, the efforts of LENOWISCO, Lee, Wise, and Scott Counties, and the City of Norton, proved that separate political subdivisions can work together instead of against each other to the mutual benefit of all. 6


First Local Board Meets and Chooses College Name On April 20, 1970, the Region 14 Community College Board held its first meeting of the Region 14 Community College in the Old Dominion Power Company Auditorium in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Board members included: Mr. M. B. Barker (Wise County) Mr. S. G. Bledsoe (Scott County) Mr. Rex Carnes (Wise County) Mr. David Dotson (Dickenson County) Mr. William T. Clements (City of Norton) Miss Grace Davis (Lee County) Mr. O. Gene Dishner (Scott County) Judge William Fugate (Lee County) Dr. Claude Graham (Lee County) Mr. E. D. Helms (Scott County) Mr. E. G. King (Wise County) Mr. James Manicure (Wise County) Dr. Jerry Miller (Scott County) Dr. Harold Ringley (Wise County) Mr. Robert Strickland (Lee County) Also present at this meeting were Mr. William Kanto, member of the State Board for Community Colleges; Mr. Daniel Crooks, Associate Director for Administration and Finance of the VCCS; Mr. George Eitel, Director of Engineering and Buildings for the State Department of Community Colleges; and Dana B. Hamel, Chancellor of the VCCS and Acting President of the Region 14 Community College. At that time Dr. Hamel outlined the selection process for the members of the board, officers of the board, and committees of the board. Selection of officers and committee members was postponed until such time as the board members became better acquainted with each other. The Acting President appointed a committee with a member from each political subdivision to consider a name for the community college. Members of the Selection of the Name of the College Committee were: Miss Grace Davis (Lee County) Chairman Mr. S. G. Bledsoe (Scott County) Mr. William T. Clements (City of Norton) Mr. David Dotson (Dickenson County) Dr. Harold Ringley (Wise County) 7


The Selection of the Name of the College Committee was charged with presenting its recommendation for a name at the next meeting. Members agreed to send suggestions to Miss Grace Davis, Chairman. During the ad hoc committee meeting, members discussed several options for naming the college. A later reference to that meeting accredits Miss Grace Davis as coming up with the winning name when she handed a piece of paper to Mr. Edgar Bacon on which she had written “Mountain Empire. How’s that sound for a college?”

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he handed a piece of paper to Mr. Edgar Bacon on which she had written “Mountain Empire. How’s that sound for a college?”

Miss Davis presented the ad hoc committee’s recommendation at the second Board meeting, held on Monday, May 25, 1970, at 3 p.m. The report made the following points: Inasmuch as it is an established custom in Virginia and across the nation to designate a community college in keeping with the geographical area in which it is located the committee is reluctant to depart from this tradition. After two sessions during which there was much careful deliberation this committee voted unanimously to submit the MOUNTAIN EMPIRE COMMUNITY COLLEGE as the most appropriate of the ten names under consideration. (Local Board Meeting, 1970) Some members of the Board wanted to name the college the C. Bascom Slemp Community College, but the motion for that name did not muster enough support. “Acknowledging with deep appreciation the most valuable contribution the Slemp Foundation had made toward the welfare of education in this area it seems advisable that a major building of the Area 14 Community College be designated as the C. Bascom Slemp Memorial Building.” (Local Board Meeting, 1970)

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Constructing and Staffing the College With the location determined, and a name chosen, the question became, “When will work begin on the college?” At the May 25, 1970, meeting, the Board learned that the Region 14 college opening would be delayed until 1972 because no operating funds were provided by the General Assembly for 1970 – 72 and there was a question whether or not the architectural drawings, state and federal agency reviews, and construction could be completed for the fall of 1971. The Board expressed grave concern and tried to raise funds to open the college earlier, but those efforts never succeeded. It would be fall 1972 before the college would open. At the June 1970 meeting, the Board elected Judge William C. Fugate, Chair; James Manicure, Vice Chair; and O. Gene Dishner, Treasurer. In January 1971, preliminary correspondence with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools concerning accreditation of the college was initiated by the VCCS. On February 26, 1971, Dr. Dana Hamel appointed Dr. Donald Puyear, President of Virginia Highlands Community College, to spend one day every other week on the campus of MECC, to review and follow building progress.

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n August 9, 1971, the Board unanimously recommended Dr. George B. Vaughan . . . be hired as the first president of Mountain Empire Communty College.

On August 9, 1971, the Board unanimously recommended Dr. George B. Vaughan, who was currently the Dean of Instruction at Virginia Highlands Community College, be hired as the first president of Mountain Empire Community College. Dr. Vaughan arrived in Big Stone Gap filled with enthusiasm, energy, and a desire to ensure that Mountain Empire Community College offered the best education possible to the residents of the service area. Nothing seemed to dampen his enthusiasm—not the muddy hillside with the bare beginnings of two buildings; not the absence of water and sewer lines to the college site; not the lack of housing for college employees who would be moving to the area; not the tremendous job of overseeing the construction of a college, staffing it, and getting students to fill the classes. These were just a few bumps in the road to opening the college for classes in the fall of 1972. But preparations were moving forward quickly. In September of ’71 the Virginia Community College System requested a $109.2 million appropriation from the State General Fund. The Board included in that request $2,338,000 for Mountain Empire Community College to be built in Big Stone Gap. 9


On September 22, 1971, The Bristol Herald Courier reported groundbreaking ceremonies for MECC to occur on Friday, October 1, 1971. W. C. Fugate and Dr. George Vaughan invited residents of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Dickenson Counties, and the City of Norton to attend. By October 7, 1971, The Coalfield Progress projected that “1972 School Bells [will be] ringing at Mountain Empire Community College.” In his address to the attending crowd of approximately 250, Dana Hamel, Chancellor of the VCCS, predicted that MECC “will give all the citizens of this region – not just a select few – a chance at a better life through education.” Hamel went on to praise George Vaughan, recently named President of MECC, as a “man uniquely qualified for the job.” Indeed, George Vaughan proved capable and eager. He set up temporary offices in the former Quesenberry’s building in the Southern section of Big Stone Gap. The building was painted green. Of course, employees soon nicknamed it “The Green Building.” Working in a building with four large rooms (and one bathroom used by both men and women), the new staff soon became acquainted indeed.

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One would think that the VCCS would have had guidelines for opening he first a new college since MECC was to be the 22nd or 23rd college opened in day “on the system. This was not the case (plenty of guidelines on purchasing, and so on, but nothing on how to move into a community and get duty” I was established). The first day “on duty” I was totally alone—not even a totally alone telephone to use. The Wise County National Bank was my only contact, - not even a thanks to a board member. I finally located a spot for temporary telephone to offices, thanks to Mr. Milford Quesenberry. “Quez” became a strong supporter of the college. The building was “across the tracks” and use. had no resemblance to what I envisioned a president’s office to be. But it worked. Shirley Wells was employed as confidential secretary to the president, and together we cleaned up the building and MECC was off and running. Actually, the contracts had already been let for building the college, and the construction crew was ready. – George Vaughan Dr. Vaughan began the challenging task of assembling a staff. On August 21, 1971, he hired Shirley Wells as the first classified staff member. In October Charles Giles became the Business Manager and Joyce Witt came on board as the second classified staff member. Martha Turnage, Dean of Student Services, began her tenure at MECC on November 1, 1971. Dr. James Carter, Dean of Instruction, joined the staff on January 1, 1972. With the president’s staff in place, Vaughan began searching for faculty to fill teaching positions. As the college filled positions and prepared for the fall 1972 opening, the College Board held several meetings to map plans. Dr. Jerry Miller (at the time from Scott County) was a member of that first Board. He later recalled those meetings: The first meetings were held in a small building. Dana Hamel was there at the first meeting with the Board. He said, “Thank you for serving on the Board. I see great rewards and success here and across the state. When a boy or girl is born, we give 10


a birth certificate, a BA or BS, and provide a way to raise a family. If we educate as many as we can, honing, polishing, and achieving new skills, we enable them to have tangible and intangible things.” Dr. Hamel’s motto was: “They will come if we will build for it.” He said, “Are we preparing these people just for a BA? Let’s prepare them for a skill and a livelihood.” – Jerry Miller Dr. Miller saw the community college as a way for these children to get an education and to have an opportunity leading to a local and national culture. As a member of the Board, he was on the Curriculum Committee and thought students needed to learn to write and to read along with learning a skill. He said, “They are capable and erudite people.” Dr. Miller worked with Dr. George Vaughan and thought he was “a practical, smart person.” Before the college opened, it had to choose a logo. In January 1972, the Publication’s Section of the Virginia Department of Community Colleges created the dusty lavender and rusty red image of mountain ridges that continues to represent, in the words of James Shipp, Coordinator of Community College’s Publications, “the basic philosophy or attitude of the institution it represents.” MECC’s logo embodies the beauty of the college’s location and the indomitable spirit of the people. The logo appeared on all college publications and official documents. By the spring and summer of 1972, the community was abuzz with daily reports as the college moved toward opening day. Enthusiasm for the college rose with each new hiring of faculty and each proposal predicting “unusual” yet favorable curricula that would help people learn professions, trades, and crafts. Local newspapers reported numerous faculty appointments over the first eight months of 1972, listing educational backgrounds and notable achievements of those hired. Two notable appointments received praise in local news reports from newspapers. Mr. Benjamin F. Wheless, formerly Dean of Faculty at Sullins College in Bristol, accepted the position of Division Chair of Arts and Sciences of Mountain Empire Community College in February. Mr. John Meyer became Chairman of the Industrial Technology Division in March. Both were hailed as top-notch appointments. Mrs. Peggy Orr Smith, with teaching and coaching in Pennsylvania and Florida and counseling experience in Lee County, received an appointment on March 1 as MECC’s counselor. Mr. Jim Durham, formerly of Big Stone Gap, arrived from Madera, California, where he had headed the math department for the Madera School District. Mr. Durham’s appointment was also announced on March 1. Peggy and Jim attended a two-week conference at VPI in June of 1972 with Martha Turnage. The conference was conducted by Dr. Jack Lavery, brother of Dr. William Lavery, President of VPI. In the evenings, Jack’s greatest thrill was playing tennis doubles against his brother Bill and his 11


partner. Jim Durham was MECC’s Rod Laver. Tennis opponents said his serve leapt off the court like it was shot from a cannon.“Jack and I won every set of tennis we played the entire two weeks. Jack was not a humble winner.” Jim Durham and Peggy Smith learned from the group dynamics and career workshops at VPI and brought the techniques back to MECC where “we adopted the concept at all the faculty in-service training done during the month of August. We had groups of all sorts with Martha, Peggy, and me leading.”– Jim Durham Charter faculty member Kurt Gottschalk described his hiring this way: In fall 1971 I enrolled in a Masters in Education Program at UVA. That spring (72) I lucked into a $1300 part-time, grant funded position/project with (under construction) Piedmont Virginia Community College. My job was to write a paper on “obtaining community input into the planning of community services.” The grant had travel money, and I was told I could pick a few Virginia community colleges to visit in pursuit of my research. The buzz across the chose door state was that MECC’s new president, George Vaughan, was the #1, though I one to see. As I was going through a bluegrass/mountain music recall my anxiety phase, I jumped at that offer and drove from Charlottesville to as I didn’t know Big Stone Gap, with stops at SWVCC and VHCC along the way. what institutional George and I got along. After I interviewed him for my research, he offered me a job, well, actually two jobs. I could have been his research was. director of institutional research or coordinator of his (LearningIn-Transit) Bus project. I chose door #1, though I recall my anxiety as I didn’t know what institutional research was. I felt better after I found and memorized a 17-word definition of institutional research. I felt so much better, in fact, and was so full of myself, that I had that lofty title printed on the top of my personal bank checks. Embarrassing, to say the least. I point out the “non-process” of my hiring to illustrate that times were different in 1972 in Big Stone Gap. – Kurt Gottschalk

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News articles during the summer of 1972 noted that MECC’s curricula would include “university parallel programs” designed for students who want to transfer to four-year colleges as well as “occupational technical programs” for students who plan to go directly to a job after a one- or two-year program is completed. At the time the national unemployment rate was 5.8 percent (compared with 3.5 percent in Virginia). Dr. Vaughan assured the public that “we are building the curriculum around the needs of the community.” The summer of ’72 was a time of anticipation and hope. Finally, after years of delays, planning, and meetings, buildings rose on the site south of Big Stone Gap, and new faculty arrived to open the college for classes in September. I arrived at MECC – then a makeshift building not actually on the campus – approximately six months prior to the opening of the college. My responsibility was to draw down the initial federal dollars to set up a student financial aid program and to set up and administer the financial aid program. This program was extremely 12


important to the college as it was the major critical tool we used to recruit students. Most of our enrollees were first generation college students and, in this region at that time, it was not well known that everyone could afford a college education. What our prospective students lacked in income they could make up in financial aid dollars. Most people in this area simply did not know this. When the college finally opened six months later, we opened with 500-600 more students than the state projected and this was mainly due to the fact that we could go up and down the hollows and offer students money to attend college. At that time the money made it possible even more so than today.

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e opened with 500 - 600 more students than the state projected.

The first building, Godwin Hall, was barely completed in time for the first day of classes. We held an orientation for new students in the Big Stone Gap Armory and it was thrilling beyond words to sit on the stage at the armory and witness the very beginning of a college that up until then had merely been a vision somewhere in the future. The administration was a collection of some of the brightest people I have worked with in my long career – George Vaughan, the first president, was a very serious, hard-driving man who was determined to exceed all expectations and he assembled a group of people who were just as determined and energetic as he was. Since Godwin Hall was far from finished when the opening day approached, the administration and staff actually did manual labor to ready the brand new building for occupancy. I remember wearing jeans and working with my colleagues all day one day – sweeping the hallways and cleaning all the glass enclosed office fronts just to be sure that we could open on time. We did this without the benefit of water, and, for the life of me, I don’t remember how. I do remember going home dog tired and filthy dirty. It was questionable whether or not there would be water on the day classes began, but that morning the water began to flow right before the students arrived. George Vaughan was a very, very serious man so it was extremely entertaining to see him running up and down the halls saying, “I never knew a flush could sound so good!” – Bonnie Elosser The greatest pleasure of my life working here at MECC was when they put bathrooms in. Ha-ha-ha-ha! They black-topped where the Port-o-lets were, so you could not get out across the hot asphalt to the Port-o-lets. Really--it was horrible! We had no water or anything until they got it going. There was no water, no air conditioning. You better have a bottle if you had to go to the Port-o-let. – Ann Davis

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Mountain Empire Community College: Some Reflections George B. Vaughan

It has been well over three decades since I became the founding president of Mountain Empire Community College (MECC). Time does indeed erase some memories, reshape some, and capture others in ways that do not change with time. The following are some of my reflections regarding my six years as president of MECC. I was Dean of Instruction at Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) when the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) approached me about applying for the presidency of MECC, informing me that some of the MECC Board wanted me to apply. Thinking back, it was probably that Peggy Vaughan and I had grown up in the region that attracted their attention as much as the work I was doing at VHCC. We liked Abingdon and VHCC and had no desire to move (we had been there less than 2 years); however, I agreed to be interviewed for the presidency. Peggy and I went to Wise for the interview. The interview went well until the very end. The board chair at the time asked me about the employment of faculty at the college. I told him I believed we should have a diverse faculty, which meant moving away from employing all local people from regional universities. I knew the political climate of “the fighting 9th� (Peggy grew up in Lee County) and did not expect my answer to go over well. It did not. We left the interview thinking that any career I might have as a community college president would not begin at MECC. A phone call at 11:30 p.m. proved me wrong. Bill Clements from the board called and offered me the position. I accepted. 14


Regarding recruitment, as I recall, we initially employed 34 professionals from 27 different universities, thus remaining true to my recruitment philosophy and resisting the pressure from any number of people in the college’s service area to employ this or that local person. I should note two things here: first, for several months, the college had two employees—Shirley Wells and me. I say this to point out that it is different when one has to employ people before the college opens; therefore, there is no faculty involved in the screening and selection process as is the case when the college is up and running. Second, out of the group two of the outstanding professionals—Peggy Smith (later Peggy Durham) and Jim Durham—grew up in the area.

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Moving to Big Stone Gap was an adventure in itself. The region was in the middle of the coal boom of the early 1970s, and housing was at a premium. We rented a place and later built a house, but I spent several weeks in the Trail Motel. Meanwhile, Peggy and our two sons, Brandt and Andrew, stayed in Abingdon. The region was also in the political spotlight since Linwood Holton, the state’s governor, was from Big Stone Gap.

oving to Big Stone Gap was an adventure in itself.

The construction of the college offered many challenges, especially to me as I knew very little about construction. I did have some common sense, however, and a bit of experience at VHCC, which was under construction when I arrived. The town of Big Stone Gap promised to bring water and sewage to the college. This was simply not happening. With the help of Bruce Robinette, Gene Dishner and others, we “called” a special meeting of the town council and the town manager for the purpose of expressing our concern regarding the lack of progress on the water and sewage lines. The administration of the college began to take shape with James Carter, Charles Giles, and Martha Turnage occupying the top three administrative positions. We were determined to “open the new college right.” To do so, we employed the faculty and staff for one month prior to the period that they would have normally been employed. The problem was that the college buildings were not ready for them, nor were the water and sewage close to reaching the college. The construction firm turned over one section of the college to us, and the faculty and staff learned to employ the use of an old concept—Port-o-let became common usage, both as a word and literally. I informed anyone who would listen that the college would open on time, and it did. We used part of one building, and the water and sewage were connected the day students arrived. We worked very hard in “selling” the college. We had placemats in most of all of the area restaurants proclaiming the virtues of MECC. We developed a multi-screen slide presentation that was truly “state of the art” for that day and time. We took the presentation on the road, and one night we were to make a presentation in a fine home in Lee county. Peggy Vaughan picked that night to join the group led by Martha Turnage and myself. We followed our directions to the house where a young man of around 17 years of age opened the door to our knock and invited us in. We noticed laundry lying around in a way that one would not expect with visitors coming. We nevertheless set up the multi-screen presentation and awaited the audience. Soon, a woman came downstairs and asked what we wanted. We told her who we were and what we were doing there. She was very polite but very firm in letting us know that we were in the wrong house. Undeterred, we packed up and moved two or so houses down the street where we had a successful showing. 15


Meanwhile, the college did open but not before a number of battles, including one with the company responsible for providing classroom furniture. I was informed that it would be a week late. I protested loudly and said I would see to it that the company was removed from the state bid list if the furniture was not there on time. Of course, in reality I could not do anything, but my ploy worked. The company had workers on the site all weekend, and the classrooms (those that were finished) were ready for students. I should note that the college, and especially I, was fortunate during the building phase to have Frank Pleasant as the clerk of the works on the project. Mr. Pleasant later was the head of buildings and grounds at the college. In an effort to determine some of the needs of the area and to get the college’s name out, we decided to survey all the households in the area. This project was under the direction of Kurt Gottschalk and in cooperation with a professor from Florida State. The information gathered through the surveys was overwhelming, literally. I should note that I conducted 2 or 3 of the surveys. This was my way of showing that I was committed to the project and was “a member of the team.” Upon reflection, this was not a good use of a president’s time. MECC, and I as president, were fortunate to have a strong college board during the early years of the college. Board members consisted of a doctor, a dentist, two CEOs of banks, a county executive, and other high-level and well qualified individuals. The board members offered good advice, introduced me to community leaders, and in general set the tone for good community relations. I was determined that the board members should understand the community college. As part of my efforts in this regard, two or more board members attended the annual meetings of the American Association of Community Colleges and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The college paid travel expenses for the board members. This approach to professional development for board members was not that common at the time and was virtually unknown in the VCCS.

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came up with the idea that we could teach classes on buses, thus using the travel time for educational purposes as well as for transportation. ARC bought the idea that classes could be taught in transit; thus, after a year or so of frustrations and conflicts, Learning in Transit (LIT) at MECC was born.

I felt it was important that MECC work closely with Clinch Valley College (CVC). There was absolutely no problem in doing so. Joe Smiddy, Chancellor of CVC, was a gracious and supportive individual. He helped me in a number of ways and became a professional colleague and friend. I used to tell Joe that the opening of MECC did more for the academic reputation of CVC than any other single thing in its history. By opening a community college, CVC became the “Harvard” of Wise County, I told him. At the time MECC was opening, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was providing a sizeable amount of money for the region it served. As president, I felt we should try for funding from ARC. I felt that many people in the area needed transportation to and from the college, so I approached ARC on funding for buses. I was told that ARC did not fund transportation. What, I asked, do you fund? The answer was innovative ideas. I became intrigued with the idea of providing transportation for MECC’s students and had to figure out a way to sell the idea to 16


ARC. I came up with the idea that we could teach classes on buses, thus using the travel time for educational purposes as well as for transportation. ARC bought the idea that classes could be taught in transit; thus, after a year or so of frustrations and conflicts, Learning in Transit (LIT) at MECC was born. The buses were well equipped for LIT; each of the 5 buses had “flip down” desks, audio and visual connection, AM-FM radio connection, were carpeted, had air condition, pull down screens, 35 mm movie cameras, eight-track tape players, video tape players, a restroom, hot plate, refrigerator, and a generator that produced electricity when the buses were parked and used as a stationary classroom. The buses were built by Bellamy’s of Hiltons in Scott County. Prior to this project, Mr. Bellamy’s reputation rested on building horse trailers. Revonda Williams and Doyle Rasnick (who had developed what I felt was the best printing operation in the VCCS) worked long and hard to see that LIT was a success. The project, however, was just too much for a small and new college, even when Bruce Robinette and LENOWISCO took over the maintenance. But the concept was grand, and the buses did bring many people to the college, especially in the evening for “Family College Nights,” a concept that attempted to bring generations (a makeshift “child care” center—one room—was available) from the same family to the college. One evening I witnessed what appeared to be four generations of individuals getting off the bus as a family. I was determined that the college respect the region’s past as well as help lead it into the future. One result was an emphasis on traditional crafts with degree programs in ceramics and woodworking included in the college’s offering. Courses in “folk life” were offered in an attempt to preserve and enhance an appreciation and understanding of the college’s heritage. One result of the commitment to the area was Home Crafts Day. The concept was the brain child of Roddy Moore (currently one of the nation’s leading authorities on mountain culture) and Martha Turnage. Mountain skills such as apple butter making and hog butchering were introduced to new generations as was traditional mountain music and crafts.

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rofessionally, I Personal: Professionally, I have never done anything as exciting and as stimulating as serving as founding president of MECC. have never done Every day was a new and exciting one; money was available for anything as exciting innovations, and I was so naïve and inexperienced as a president that I was willing to try about anything that was legal and enhanced and as stimulating as the teaching and learning process. Big Stone Gap was good for serving as founding Peggy. She taught at Powell Valley High School for part of the time president of MECC. we were there; she was founding president of a Junior Woman’s Club; and she was intimately involved with the college, overseeing receptions in our home (she prepared all of the food the first two years), and in general did much more than one might expect while at the same time being a good mother for our two boys. Our boys loved BSG and cried for days after we left there. Both of them started school at the elementary school and thus got off to an outstanding start in the educational process. I learned a great deal as president, much of which I later used as president of Piedmont Virginia Community College and as a professor at George Mason University, the University of Florida, and North Carolina State University. I have only fond memories of MECC and the region the college serves. Positive Steps: Looking back after all of these years, I feel I can single out some of the positive things the college did during my presidency. (1) The “selling of the college” was a major undertaking, 17


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especially since some of the critics of the college wanted to know why we needed a community college in the region. Without doubt, we made MECC a household term for most families in the region. (2) Although the faculty and staff were not perfect, as few are, both groups were generally very strong, committed to the college, and very hardworking. I feel that we “did it right” when bringing together the faculty and staff. (3) The curriculum was comprehensive, and open access was a reality. (4) Community relations were outstanding. MECC was a “good citizen” of the community, as were many of its faculty and staff. (5) We were very innovative and (thank goodness) no one was ever punished for trying new things that may not have succeeded fully. (6) The college helped preserve the heritage of the region through such things as Home Crafts Days. (7) We worked well with the public schools and CVC. School superintendents supported the college in many ways, as did the chancellor of CVC. (8) Community leaders such as Bruce Robinette, Gene Dishner, Bill Clements, Carol Tate, Bill Hendricks, and Bill Kanto did many things to promote the college. The college received political support from Orby Cantrell and Governor Holton.

e were very innovative and (thank goodness) no one was ever punished for trying new things that may not have succeeded fully.

Negative Steps: I feel we made some mistakes during the early years of the college. (1) We put too much emphasis on the crafts. Perhaps ceramics should have been offered as courses, not a degree program. Woodworking as a craft that would provide graduates with the means of making a living was not a good choice. The college probably should have used its resources more wisely. (2) The college, while under my leadership, was reluctant to become involved with the coal industry. I was determined that MECC not become a part of the “company town” concept associated with mining communities. As a result, we were late in serving the coal industry in the ways that we could have done. Changes were made (thanks largely to the leadership of Revonda Williams) before I left MECC; thus, this oversight ceased to exist. (3) We probably tried to do too much for a new small college. Innovation can be a positive force in the development of a new institution; it can also overwhelm everyone. We came close at times to being overwhelmed. Judgment Calls: Intelligent people can and should disagree, especially where education is concerned. I feel, therefore, that some of the things the college did were judgment calls—not necessarily negative or positive. (1) LIT, while I believe was a very bright idea and one that should have worked to almost perfection, was, at best, a success only in its innovative approach (I still get an occasional e-mail on the project from educational leaders). I failed to understand America’s love affair with the automobile. The students wanted to come and go (even with the gasoline crisis in full swing) as they pleased. Thus, they drove their own cars instead of riding a bus that was free but one that arrived and left on a schedule. I also underestimated the curves and bumps on the mountain roads in the college’s service area. Travel and intense study were not always compatible on buses with leaf springs traversing mountain roads. (2) We probably should have worked with the coal industry from day one. Even though strip mining was a “third rail” issue at the time, it would have been well within the college’s educational mission to have worked with the miners to improve their skills and knowledge and to have worked with the “bosses” to improve their approach to the miners. (3) As implied above, many people—including me—believe that in the opening days the college put too much emphasis on “arts and crafts” and not enough 18


on job-skill training that would produce instant results. (4) Though I am proud to this day of the faculty we brought into the area, perhaps we could have given potential faculty members a better understanding of the culture of the college’s service region. Although most people who came from outside the region loved the area and many are still there, some people found the customs, the scarcity of upscale shopping, the mining culture, and other aspects of the society unacceptable, and thus were unhappy. The result was that they tended to blame the college when unhappiness or frustrations entered their lives. Serving as president was a mountain top experience (both literally and spiritually) for me. I am thankful to have had the honor and privilege of serving as MECC’s founding president. If I had a small part in the college’s early success, I am grateful. If I made mistakes, they were mistakes of trying to do too much. I felt the college could eliminate ignorance, poverty, unemployment, welfare, and so on. Of course it could not, but I can honestly say I tried my best to shape the college in ways that would sustain it in the future. In looking at the many good things the college has done and is doing, I believe I was successful.

Comments on George Vaughan — Dr. George B. Vaughan’s enthusiasm, desire, and determination to make Mountain Empire Community College the best educational opportunity in the Virginia Community College System laid the foundation of the college and shaped its future. Dr. Vaughan was disciplined, paid attention to detail, and set high goals for the college and a high bar for faculty and staff. He designed the college’s curricula, which combined a strong transfer program with a technology curriculum aimed at the needs of the region and the Virginia Community College System’s first crafts program. He brought in a faculty of diverse, skilled, and professionally prepared people. He established solid, germane programs of study and created the essential cornerstones of the college during its formative years. He set high standards of ethics and professionalism, encouraging faculty to treat all visitors to the college with respect and dignity. Another important part of Vaughan’s founding role was the support staff, an extraordinary group. Dr. Vaughan’s first hire was Shirley Wells, who served several years as his administrative assistant and later joined the college’s faculty. Mrs. Wells, along with others—Mrs. Thelma Lockhart, Mrs. Ada Vandeventer, Mrs. Charlotte Green., Mrs. Pat Parsons, and Mrs. Joyce Witt, to name a few—performed crucial roles in instituting the excellent service Dr. Vaughan expected. Vaughan insisted that correspondence on college letterhead would be perfect, a challenge for the best of secretaries in a time of no word processing, no self-correcting electronics, and no Wite-Out allowed. 19


His grand accomplishment was to bring accessible higher education to an area that had never had it. This success was made all the more challenging because he had to anticipate, upon opening the doors, mixed reviews. The local culture had a mistrust of government, and especially Richmond (site of the college’s home office), a mistrust of outsiders (MECC brought in many), and even somewhat of a disdain for formal education. The challenge was not to reject the local culture, but to embrace the good and to change beliefs when change was helpful. George Vaughan knew this. He really was the perfect person to establish and lead MECC. His roots were rural Virginia, so he is roots were rural understood and appreciated Southwest Virginia Virginia, so he culture. He knew that the college needed to fit in understood and appreciated and find common ground with its community, which Southwest Virginia culture. led to pursuing strategies like Learning-In-Transit buses that took education to the people and Home Crafts Days that lured the people up the hill. However, he knew, at the same time, that the college must be different. It needed to project not just a commitment to serve, but also an image of excellence, and that could only occur if professionalism was a strong institutional norm. If we were going to be in the business of higher education in which we would help people lift themselves up to live better lives, then, in all of the ways that we interacted with our broader community, we had to demonstrate our own individual and collective striving to be the best we could be. George demanded clean college buildings with well-landscaped, litter-free grounds; he valued neat grooming and dress for college employees; he required the highest level of quality in the content and form of all official college communications. From faculty and staff he expected hard work and results. He sought widespread acceptance of his ideals of commitment, service, and excellence. He mandated that all employees value and pursue professional development goals. Indeed, for George, this was a requisite perspective for having the privilege of working in an institution of higher education. Simply put, George Vaughan wanted MECC to be a class act in every way. He wanted to be the best at what he did. He wanted the college to be the best at what it did. And, I think he was right on the mark! – Kurt Gottschalk

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George Vaughan gave me the only thing I ever asked from anyone, and that was opportunity. He took me off the assembly line and told me I could go to college while I worked as a printer for MECC. I paid for my classes and took them during my lunch hours and after work. Dr. Vaughan had the greatest influence on my life except for my father. I can never thank him enough for his help. – Doyle Rasnick George Vaughan’s efforts to highlight crafts at Mountain Empire were brilliant and perhaps before their time. The crafts programs we had during the first years would be great now with current interests in tourism in this area. We still have people from our pottery program who have shops or who work 20

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eorge Vaughan’s efforts to highlight crafts at Mountain Empire were brilliant and perhaps before their time.


with pottery. Terri Ball is in West Virginia. Home Craft Days has had an impact here that we could not estimate until years later. Jonathan Romeo of Crooked Road told me recently (2009), “You are doing more for music than any other program in Virginia. There is a wide respect for your music programs.” – Sue Ella BoatwrightWells We still get calls asking about the pottery program. – Charlotte Green Vaughan’s leadership has influenced the college’s growth and success over the years. Thirty-five years later a student from 1972 remembers Vaughan’s vision: On that first day, Maggie and I came down the steps to the bottom hallway of the front building near the student lounge (which wasn’t finished). As we turned the corner, President Vaughan and some construction men were walking toward us. President Vaughan stopped and started talking. He immediately made us feel like we were important to the success of MECC. Someone had a camera (probably Bill Harris) and we had a picture taken with Dr. Vaughan and the construction men. I think that picture ended up in some publication within the community college system. I recently visited MECC and was impressed with the growth. The campus has grown, providing many opportunities and outreach for the students and the community. MECC has become exactly what Dr. Vaughan and the many others involved dreamed of and worked hard for. I like to think that I had a small part in making the dreams of many come alive. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of the Adventure of MECC. – Diane Hendrick Marks Dr. George Vaughan was our first president. This man always had time for the students and never failed to smile and say hello as he passed us in the hallways. – Maggie Buckles Shortt And yes -- affirmative action was non-existent back then. George approached me at the Inn at Wise at lunch one day and asked me if I would consider coming to the new college. I was Director of Upward Bound at the time and could barely balance a checkbook--let alone start and administer a Financial Aid program. Evidently George Vaughan saw something my husband Doug didn’t -- because Doug was scared to death that this opportunity would be an early demise for me. Yet within two years I served on the federal regional panel that recommended funding for the Eastern region and I was elected president of the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid. Now I give George most of the credit for any measure of success I achieved. Yes, I worked hard-- very hard really-- but he demanded our best and I didn’t want to disappoint him. And it should also be said that he provided all the resources and support we needed to achieve success.

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I was, in fact, very undisciplined when I came into financial aid and that was not a good trait to have when one is accountable to federal auditors. I had no idea how to tackle a job like that one – no training whatsoever – but what I saw was a group of incredibly dedicated, hard-working people. So, what else was I to do but knuckle down and work very hard just like they were doing? In doing this, I learned that one can do almost anything with half a brain and very hard work. The hours we all kept during those days were unbelievably long and I could have done it only because of my age. I look at that young woman in the photos you referred to in those early days and I can only wonder who that young woman was! Yikes, was I ever that young? It is incredible how the memories flood back now. I have felt for years that what was accomplished during those early days should somehow be preserved. At the time, I thought that all work in higher education was comparable to what was going on at MECC during the six months before the college opened and in those first few years. But nothing could be further from the truth. That was (at least for me) a once in a lifetime experience – an experience characterized by a missionary zeal that cannot be recaptured nor can it be simulated in other circumstances. How very fortunate I was to be a part of that. And, I had no concept of any of this at the time – I was completely oblivious to the fact that the situation was unique. The demographics of the area, of course, made the mission so much more significant. If I had participated in the opening of Point Park Junior College in Pittsburgh – would the experience have been even remotely the same? Absolutely not! These mountains of Southwest Virginia presented educational challenges that were nearly insurmountable and that is what makes what was accomplished early on so very significant. We could have easily opened with 225 students. But, super human energy and amazing dedication from the maintenance staff to the presidency pushed those numbers way up. The state folks had low expectations and we pushed those numbers way up and got their attention, that’s for sure.

t is incredible how the memories flood back now.

And, I’m about at the end of my George Vaughan tribute – but let me add this. I attended the University of Pittsburgh during the years when it was a private school pushing to become ivy league. I was an English major and the course requirements there at that time were extremely rigorous. The best courses I ever took were there and I came away with very high educational standards. I believed fully in a liberal arts education and never dreamed that I would have any interest in community college education. When I took the position at MECC, I had my doubts about community colleges. But the mission intrigued me and over time I came to love and respect that mission to the extent that my greatest fulfillment and my happiest moments occurred at MECC. I grew to be proud of working in the VCCS and never ever felt the need to apologize for the fact that I was working for a community college. I spent 8 years as Dean of Students at UVA Wise under a great mentor, Joe Smiddy, and learned a great deal from him. I accomplished so much in those years with almost no staff at all. I did most of the work myself including supervising 22


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the dorms on weekends. But, my most fulfilling moments and my happiest and most satisfying moments in my long career were definitely at MECC. Doug has always remarked that I was always happiest at MECC. I think George was mostly responsible for instilling the pride in community college work in me. He insisted on that deep pride – he didn’t ever want to make apologies – so I fell into that pattern. But as the years passed on I saw it for myself. We really were influencing and changing lives for the better and it doesn’t get any better than that. – Bonnie Elosser

oug has always remarked that I was always happiest at MECC.

One of the challenges relating to the job is it’s more than just teaching. We have a real professional role. Dr. Vaughan certainly helped out [in establishing professionalism and professional development] and all of the presidents since then have supported professional development. – Gary Bumgarner

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September 1972: The College Opens The year the college opened was a time of change and new horizons. The Vietnam War was winding down. After a commitment of over 536,000 troops in the war in 1968, the number of soldiers deployed by fall of 1972 had dropped to below a quarter million. The top five songs that year were: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack, “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan, “American Pie” by Don McLean, “Without You” by Nilsson and “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr. The Godfather and Deliverance were playing at the State and Strand theaters on Broad Street in Kingsport and at the Trail Theater in downtown Big Stone Gap. “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son” and “Hawaii Five-0” led the networks’ most popular lists of prime-time TV programs. Popular radio and TV programs in the college’s service area comprised a local lineup. People in Wise, Scott, Lee and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton woke up every morning to WLSD radio in Big Stone Gap and at 5:30 a.m. they tuned their TVs to “The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour.” While many people now may believe they watched WCYB in Bristol for “News 5 This Morning with Johnny Woods,” Johnny was not on TV 5 until the early 80’s. Viewers did, however, spend their mid-day lunch hour watching “The Virgil Q. Wacks Varieties Show.” A Station called WLSD: Of course, newcomers to Wise County thought “WLSD,” the call letters for Big Stone Gap’s only radio station, was an odd combination. The station featured news, music, and general interest programming; there seemed no design in the call logo except perhaps to find a unique and captivating call sign. Interestingly, one college employee, Mr. Gary Burchett, MECC’s first Director of Admissions, worked as WLSD’s morning announcer each day before reporting for duties at the college. His dual roles stood as just one example of community involvement from college faculty, a partnership between the college and the community that would continue through the years. Everybody puzzled over why a small community nestled among the great Appalachian ranges of Southwest Virginia should name its radio station WLSD. Were the call letters some joking reference to a dropout culture? Well, Bill Buckles, Educational Support Specialist II, Student Services, MECC, worked at WLSD from 1981 through 1989. Bill knows the answer. Jamie Buckles, Administrative Office Specialist III, President’s Office, knows the answer. Do you know? [Give up? Answer on following page.] People moving to the area for the first time found “The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour” fascinating, to say the least. The show came on at 5:30 each morning and was aired on Knoxville’s Channel 10 with a band of guitars, a mandolin, and a banjo playing bluegrass tunes as five small children clogged in a circle. Cas occasionally crossed the set behind performers, sometimes doing a two-step softshoe and ogling the cameras. One of Cas’s long-term sponsors was Miracle Supraderm Salve, and Cas’s ads for the product were inspired: 24


Folks, I had the most tormenting condition that anyone ever had. I had went to John Hopkins and had went to many of the clinics over the country without relief, then I found the wonderful Miracle Supraderm Salve. Now, for all itchy conditions, I want to recommend Supraderm Salve. Athlete foot, hemorrhoids, acne, cold sores that refuse to heal. Those words carried a powerful message indeed. Cas always pronounced salve as save, a trait that brought chuckles from his listeners, especially those who moved in from up north. Mr. William Reinholtz, instructor of drafting at MECC, set his alarm every morning, never missing Cas’s show. Rheinholtz reportedly sat on the edge of his bed in his rental apartment and gazed at the TV. Every time Cas Walker said “save” for salve, Reinholtz laughed with delight. Those viewers who were around during the early Cas Walker shows will recall that Dolly Parton began her career as a singer with Cas, and that Dolly opened the show with a theme song. “Pick up the morning paper when it hits the street,/ Cas Walker’s prices, they just can’t be beat,/ Get that Blue Ban Coffee and you’ll want some more,/ Do your grocery shopping at the Cas Walker Store.” Dolly began with the Cas Walker show when she was nine. She moved on to “The Porter Wagoner Show” in 1967 and to greater fame and fortune.

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olly began with the Cas Walker show when she was nine.

Answer: Why WLSD? In 1952, Mr. Bill Wren brought WLSD AM radio into the homes of Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson Counties; therefore, the WLSD call letters were conceived as an acronym for the service area. In the early 70s WLSD FM was added. The most popular program during those years was the “Trading Post,” a live call-in program where callers could buy or sell most anything. In the late 80s the FM call letters were changed to WAXM, but WLSD AM is still on the air today. “The Virgil Q. Wacks Varieties Show” ran through the seventies on WJHL in Johnson City and WKPT in Kingsport. The last show taped at WKPT in 1982. Virgil spotlighted community events in western North Carolina, southeast Kentucky, East Tennessee, and southwest Virginia. (Wacks, 2000–2005) The show’s popularity grew from audiences’ interests in local events such as beauty contests, fairs, festivals, landmarks, and of course the opening of a new community college. Most notable with college personnel was Virgil’s support for MECC.

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ome on up here and get you a real cheap education.”

Virgil was extremely excited about the opening of the new college in Big Stone Gap and he gave us a great deal of free publicity. If not entirely accurate, he was always supportive. And, in his very loud, deep voice with a genuine Southwest Virginia dialect, he ended every update on the new college with this line: “Come on up here and get you a real cheap education.” Well, college administrators were truly beside themselves and indicated on more than one occasion that they wished that Virgil would say “Come on up here and get an inexpensive education.” – Bonnie Elosser 25


While most of the college faculty had arrived by August 1, many of that charter assemblage came from outside the area, from Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York. New arrivals into the community had difficulty finding housing. The first influx of personnel— including new health care employees coming to fill positions at the recently constructed Lonesome Pine Hospital facility--quickly snatched up empty properties in surrounding rural communities. Singles rented apartments from Don Wax Realty, and some leased rooms in boarding houses until they could find better accommodations. Most college personnel adapted to local lifestyles and customs, fitting into the community, and the community embraced the influx of new faces with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Faculty and administrators “hit the ground running,” dedicated to making the best of their new challenges and opportunities. They were young, eager to achieve, and—as is often true—naïve. They wanted to please.

So, like the rest of the charter faculty and staff, I showed up for my first day of work on Aug. 1, 1972. What a group. To say it was eclectic or diverse hardly does it justice. For the most part, we were outsiders brought to a remote area. The college’s curricula mandated that some of us had credentials and backgrounds in traditional collegiate fields; it also required strong contingents in the arts and manual trades. PhDs and plumbers, chemists and pottery makers. We were young and old. Some with families, but it seemed to me that we had an inordinate number of singles and people in transition. So many people relocating to the college’s service area all at once was problematic. For example, when I looked for housing there were simply no apartments or house rentals available. Best I could do was to rent a bedroom in an old widow’s (Mrs. Reeder) house in downtown Big Stone. My rent was $1 a day. That was great, but I didn’t have kitchen privileges. Local eateries were few in number and all specialized in deep frying. – Kurt Gottschalk At that time, the war on poverty was big. I came here from northern Indiana, and knew all about Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, and we had seen pictures of tarpaper shacks, so I had all sorts of ideas of how people lived, the poor and stuff like that, and we were at that time rather isolated because the highway system hadn’t been completed yet. I had come from a college campus, a rather large campus, and I was used to being able to go out at midnight to clubs and having a lot of entertainment. And then coming here, there wasn’t that type of stuff, so I had to get used to that. I had a very supportive wife and that helped a lot. As we got to know the area, we learned that people here had more than tar-paper shacks. We knew we could work for them. – Gary Bumgarner

Not every faculty member, however, coming into a new and very different area, would choose to remain. Two weeks before the college opened for classes, one member of the math faculty’s goals changed, and that person left before Fall Quarter began. 26


After that quick departure, Mr. Chris Allgyer, a candidate from Ohio, was contacted in early September about the possibility of interviewing for the unexpected opening: I had sent my application for the position of instructor of mathematics in May. I had just graduated, however, and—as there were almost 200 applicants for the job—I didn’t make the cut. I was working in a steel tubing factory in Ohio on nightshift. When I returned from work to my parents’ house on Monday morning, my mother told me that either John Meyer or Jim Carter had called from Mountain Empire, wanting to know if I was still interested in the position. Mother told them I would be interested and she was told, “We MAY have an opening that MIGHT arise.” A week later the college called again. Mother told me on Monday, “They want you to come for an interview.” Not knowing how to get to Big Stone Gap or about the winding mountain roads, my Dad went to AAA and they suggested Highway 23 from Ohio through Kentucky to Virginia. The drive was supposed to take about 7 hours. I left before sunrise on Tuesday morning planning to arrive for the interview that afternoon. The drive was fine until I crossed the Ohio River and found that massive road work was occurring in Kentucky. I remember that outside of Ashland there was a 45-minute wait due to blasting of the mountainside. The detour roads were so curvy and hilly that I became car sick as I drove. Finally, around 4 p.m., I was somewhere in the middle of nowhere on a detour in Eastern Kentucky and found a motel and payphone. I called Dr. Carter, and explained my predicament. He told me I was still over an hour away and that we would reschedule the interview for the next morning. I checked into the motel still unable to keep any solid food down. I slept fitfully and struggled out of bed around 6 a.m. the next morning and traveled on to Big Stone Gap, not knowing when or IF I would arrive because I was still very sick and couldn’t eat. I finally made it to the Trail Motel around 8 a.m. and was able to get a room. I called Dr. Carter letting him know that I was still very ill. really didn’t Dr. Carter said that Dr. George Vaughan had to fly to Richmond know much later that morning so he suggested that the interview be conducted about community in my motel room. So around 9 a.m., Dr. Vaughan, Dr. Carter and Mr. John Meyer, the division chair, came to the Trail Motel and colleges, I had interviewed me as I lay in bed hardly able to hold my head up. My to hurry to the memory of the interview is a blur. I do recall when they asked the bathroom to be question about my thoughts about the community college (I really didn’t know much about community colleges), I had to hurry to the sick again. bathroom to be sick again. After several other questions about my experience, Dr. Vaughan and Mr. Meyer left and Dean Carter took me to the clinic located where Lonesome Pine Hospital is today. I was treated by Dr. Ford who gave me some medicine for my nausea. Dr. Carter had to leave for another meeting so he asked Jim Durham and Art Moore (both math teachers) to pick me up and return me to the motel. I remember meeting Jim and Art and how my arms

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trembled as we shook hands. After taking the medicine I was able to eat a light meal later that day and get some rest that evening. Thursday morning I finally got to the MECC campus. I met again with Mr. Meyer and Dr. Carter. They had checked my references and decided to offer me the job. After signing some papers and getting a brief orientation about the classes I was to teach, Jim Durham then took me into town for lunch and we started trying to find a place to stay. I remember we went into a store called “Friendly Jack’s” and Jim asked several folks there about finding a room to rent. Someone suggested that Mrs. Margaret Jeter had a room to rent. Jim knew her and that afternoon I was introduced to her and she agreed to rent an upstairs room in her home. Friday morning I drove back to Ohio (taking a better route through Lee County across to I-75) and told my parents I had a job! Sunday I returned (with no detours)to Big Stone Gap and moved into my room. Monday morning I started teaching my first class. Everyone else had been working for approximately a month at in service getting to know each other and getting prepared for students and classes. There were no offices for teachers in “A Building” (later named Godwin Hall) where I was to teach classes and have an office. Each teacher had a desk for an office in the Library on second floor; first floor wasn’t completed yet; and there were no bathrooms. I do remember that the other faculty were very friendly and made me feel at home. Someone had been hired for this position previously, but it didn’t work out, so I was hired to teach math; my music degree was a plus, and I taught music appreciation. I found out later there were 200 applicants for the position, so I felt lucky to be in Big Stone Gap . . . even sick! – Chris Allgyer The interesting and perhaps ironic follow-up on this sequence is that while the instructor who left had the briefest term of employment at the college, his replacement, Chris Allgyer, is vying to have the longest tenure at the college. It appears that Mr. Allgyer’s hiring was an excellent choice for replacement. The doors finally opened on Mountain Empire Community College on September 28, 1972, when “An unexpected tremendous enrollment of 507 students showed up” for classes. (Post, 1972) That number was double expectations from earlier in the summer. The first student to enroll was Charles Hill, who later came to work at MECC on the buildings and grounds crew. The Coalfield Progress recognized the 500th student to enroll, Mrs. Alice Hendrick of Jonesville, and her picture appeared in the September 28 edition. Several factors triggered interest in and the resulting enrollment at MECC. Location made commuting less costly and time consuming than other colleges, thanks to Bruce Robinette’s efforts. Tuition was less than that of four-year institutions, $75.00 a quarter for full-time in-state 28


students and $225.00 for full-time out-of-state enrollees. (At that time, adding hours beyond full-time status—15 hours—did not cost students any more.) The opportunities presented by transfer, technology, and crafts curricula were attractive. And word spread through news media that MECC’s faculty were highly qualified. Staffing the college followed the dictates of the curricula guide established by the State Board. Virginia’s community colleges were to be “teaching” colleges rather than research institutions. Their goals were to prepare transfer students to pursue college degrees and to prepare technologies and crafts graduates to enter the work force as skilled employees. In this formative period, each college also sought to offer a special program designed for its particular region. As president, Vaughan had worked to fulfill the promises of Chancellor Dana Hamel and to follow the guidelines of the system: MECC offered a two-year university parallel transfer curriculum and a business and technology curriculum designed to graduate people ready to work in skilled positions. Since MECC was at the center of the Mountain Empire region where high quality bituminous coal was abundant, supporting a flourishing coal industry, expectations followed that the college would offer mining instruction at all levels. Southwest Community College in Richlands, however, had an established mining program, and the state did not want to duplicate curricula within the community college system. (MECC did offer a 70—80-credit-hour mining electrician program with Mr. Jay Blevins as the lead instructor.) 29


Another option, a drama and theater arts program, gained support because of Wise County’s connections to John Fox, Jr., and the long-running production of The Trail of The Lonesome Pine at the June Toliver House in Big Stone Gap. Once again though, the VCCS had founded a theater curriculum previously at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon. As a result, although MECC did not choose to pursue a drama program, Dr. Vaughan did bring in a talented instructor for speech and theater in Richard Culliton.

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With mining and drama ruled out, the college chose to offer a strong ith mining and crafts curriculum as its specialty. Mr. Glenn Rand was brought drama ruled in from Purdue University to be director of the crafts production curriculum and his wife Sally Rand joined him on the faculty. Mr. out, the college chose Rand specialized in ceramics and metals, glass blowing, furniture to offer a strong design, jewelry making, and weaving. James and Debs Herold came crafts curriculum as on board to teach wood-crafting; Sandra Butler from New York was its specialty. the instructor of ceramics and pottery; and Mr. Roddy Moore, folk culture specialist, arrived to oversee Home Crafts Day, an event that became a hallmark of the college. As a result of these qualified crafts professionals, the college offered a seven-quarter (two-year) associate in applied science program in crafts production. It was an ambitious curriculum designed to prepare graduates to earn their living by producing marketable crafts and to be capable of carrying out the necessary business operations to sell products. Students took classes in ceramics, woodworking and design as well as classes in related areas—business and art history--and in general education—language and math skills. MECC also offered an applied science degree in building construction and a certificate in plumbing. These unique programs were intended to address the two-fold needs for skilled crafts professionals and buildings and construction professionals for employment and to fulfill the promise of improved lifestyles in the region. After years of planning and preparation and with a diverse and very qualified faculty in place, the Fall Quarter of 1972 moved into full swing. Over the years, the college would have a munificent impact on educational, financial, and cultural aspects within the region. The biggest challenge was trying to figure out what I was supposed to do as a teacher because for many of us it was our very first teaching experience. I believe Ben Wheless and Carolyn Rogers had like 80% of the teaching experience of the whole staff at that time and they might have been the only ones that--well some others had one or two years of experience--but those two folks had had by that time 30 years of experience each. So learning the job and how to teach [was a challenge]. Luckily, I had some good education in Indiana where the major professor there, who went down to Blacksburg, was an individual that wanted an experiential instructor or just wasn’t a lecture [professor] and so I had to try to figure out ways of getting that experiential type of learning into my classes and get away from a lecture approach. I observed other people teaching. Jay Blevins was 30


one of the persons that I observed and it seemed to me that he never lectured when I was there. He taught electricity so that was hands on. Jerry Laney was another one that I watched and he sat behind the desk all the time. He taught drafting, and the students would come up to him and talk. Then I had done an internship down at Westmoreland Training Center one time and Al Minton was down there and I observed him over a couple of months and we would sit there and he would have stories to tell and jokes to tell and I’m sitting there and I’m thoroughly enjoying this and the other people are enjoying this and after three or four hours I would be at a place and I would look back and the blackboard would be full of electrical formulas and calculations and stuff like that, and I would think when did those get up there but he had such a good way of presenting his material. These were some of the real life experiences that I learned from. It was those experiences which helped me begin to learn how to do the job, along with becoming aware of the different culture in this area. – Gary Bumgarner The two buildings that would house offices and classrooms for the first several years were not completed yet. They were called Building A and Building B. To avoid construction hazards, “open air” orientation classes met at the National Guard Armory on the grass beneath shade trees. Students attending classes at the college walked around construction areas to get to class; they arrived along graveled driveways and parked on unfinished lots. The smell of dust and new asphalt filled the air. When classes started in the fall of 1972, the buildings were not quite finished. We were given yellow plastic hard hats to wear. This symbol was elcome . . . outwardly a message to say, ‘be careful and be patient.’ But, come on in, as I look at it now, what this small gesture really meant was: “Welcome… come on in, and be part of this new adventure.” be part of this

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and new adventure.”

Back then, there were only two buildings. The upper building housed the ‘crafters’ and trade classrooms. There was a big push for the pottery and crafting. Sometimes we felt that the more traditional curriculum took a back seat to these areas. Those students not in the trade fields felt that MECC was a way to affordably attend college and used it as a stepping stone for the future. There were several areas that provided a one-year certificate. – Diane Hendrick Clark

That first year was a time for the college to form its roles, to establish itself as a part of the community, and to discover evolving new functions. People remember it as an extraordinary and exciting experience of growth and novelty. President Vaughan and his staff wanted faculty to work as one unit. In a unique approach to this goal, administrators assigned faculty from different curricula to share offices. An English instructor worked beside a plumber; a math instructor shared with a laboratory technician; and a drafting teacher worked next to a potter. Instructors of university transfer classes, instructors of business and technology classes, and crafts specialists joined together in unity of space and purpose.

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The buildings were still under construction with no ceilings or visible plumbing or electrical wiring. Students were making friends, trying to establish their niche in this new community college. Most of the faculty was within 5-10 year range of the students’ ages so the faculty became our peers. The students were not accustomed to the laid-back atmosphere of the college or the classrooms. At that time, students were allowed to smoke in the classrooms (although this was considered rude), in the halls, in the lounge, etc. The faculty worked diligently to promote camaraderie among the students and themselves. – Maggie Buckles Shortt “Though we had our share of fun times, we also learned lifelong skills and gained knowledge because of the dedication of the staff. To name a few, Bonnie Elosser, Gary Bumgarner, Ben Wheless, Chris Allgyer, and Bill Harris stand out.” – Diane Hendrick The college had two unfinished buildings . . . and . . . the plumbing was not completed. Faculty and students alike had to share the two Port-o-lets located on campus. That unique feature became a topic of humor for everyone. The Port-o-lets were set side-by-side. During the first faculty in-service day, everybody drank a lot of coffee. When the first break came around 10 a.m., the whole group hurried out to the two outdoor facilities for relief. The elderly English professor, who held a Ph. D., was fortunate to get in line first. She had established a reputation early on of being a no-nonsense individual with a quick temper, and she claimed to carry a pistol in her handbag. After she entered one of the Port-olets, Sam Dillon, who was quite a character and a joker, called to her and asked, “Carolyn, can you hear us in there? Because we sure can hear you out here!” The lady was livid. She went to her supervisor, Ben Wheless, and to the dean and the president, demanding that Sam be fired. Of course, no one else felt the offense was that serious. – Tom Burke While attending a conference in Blacksburg, members of MECC’s faculty gathered at the Donaldson Brown Center, where Tom Burke, history instructor, with the help of Gary Bumgarner, Jim Durham, Peggy Smith, Chris Allgyer, and a few others, composed the lyrics to a localized version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” on table napkins. The tune remained the same as Denver’s version, with some lyrics altered to apply to Southwest Virginia and MECC. Almost heaven, LENOWISCO, Appalachia, Norton, Wise, and Big Stone. Life is older there, older than the breeze. Younger than the coalfields, beargrass and trees. Country roads, Southwest Virginia, Take me home, Country roads. ... All my memories gather around her, ample housing, water sewage memos What’s our future? Building B’s the bet. But we should be thankful—we have two Port-o-lets. – Tom Burke 32


If the faculty found some humor in two Port-o-lets, students encountered long lines and quickly began searching for alternative ports of relief. The only public-access restrooms within a tolerant distance were the Country Boy Restaurant, next to the current Country Boy Motel, and Fraley’s Coach House, located at the bottom of Country Boy Hill. It was a no-brainer for students to frequent those two businesses for potty breaks. Fraley’s Coach House, however, soon realized that incoming traffic far exceeded food orders, and college students were told they could not relieve themselves in the restrooms unless they ate in the dining room. In short, they were banned from the restaurant. Since Route 23 was not completed, students couldn’t drive to Mountain Empire’s campus from any direction other than Route 58 from Lee County without having to cross a railroad track. There were no bypasses around Big Stone Gap, Norton, Coeburn, Wise, or Gate City. If students arrived late for eight o’clock classes, the most common causes were “stuck in traffic” and “stopped at a railroad crossing for half an hour” waiting on a long load of coal to pass.

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tudents did come to campus, though. They wanted to be part of an academic community.

Students did come to campus, though. They wanted to be part of an academic community. They enjoyed the fellowship and the intellectual exchange around campus. They thrived on a plethora of activities, events, and meetings, including a full schedule of classes. MECC had become their favorite dayplace, and they had adopted it as their second home.

As time progressed, so did the college and its facilities. A student lounge was established where students gathered between (and alas, during) classes. We had a jukebox which constantly played the music of the day, a ping pong table and a Foosball table. There was a continual game of poker being played and yes, there was money under the table. Many times, faculty members would drop by for ping pong or Foosball but I honestly don’t remember if they played poker. Glen Mosier was the PE teacher, and he established intramural teams for touch football, basketball and softball. Those who didn’t play often attended the games for support and entertainment. – Maggie Buckles Shortt Some of the greatest ping pong matches and tournaments ever held on the planet Earth were held in the student lounge (lower floor northeastern corner of Godwin way back then) during the 70’s at MECC. Back then students didn’t tend to leave campus during the day and there were always good tunes on the jukebox and ping pong balls bouncing off the walls. – Fred Coeburn

In spite of many nuisances and hindrances, people at MECC went to work. Over the following months, the college would accomplish the first steps of its goals. Students wanted to come to campus for the adventure, the camaraderie, and for learning. They drove to campus, often sharing rides, or they rode the Learning in Transit buses. After the buses were finished and finally delivered, George asked me to recommend someone to head up this endeavor. I recommended Perry Carroll, who was the 33


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printer at UVA Wise at the time. Perry was offered the job and accepted! oor Poor Perry! Little did he know what he was in for. Perry’s job was Perry! to get out and sign students up to take classes on these buses. George also told me that I was to go out with Perry and help him promote this Little did he very important project. Well, Perry and I took a bus each morning to know what the far reaches of the service area to recruit student riders and what we he was in for. encountered shocked us. People weren’t that interested in riding a bus to college! That was truly amazing as this happened right at the time of a severe national gas shortage! Yikes! In fact, at a parking lot in Gate City, a man got on the bus, looked it over and said, “When this project fails, I’d like to buy it for a camper to use when I go fishing.” – Bonnie Elosser MECC’s first College Board met monthly to advise President George Vaughan on college management. With all the turmoil of a new college, the board played decisive roles in moving MECC out of confusion and disorder and into certainty of educational goals brought about in first-rate facilities. They faced difficult tasks in funding, building, organizing, and implementing college structures and business. Several board members played significant roles in MECC’s early success. Chief among them was William Clements, board chairman in 1972. I arrived in BSG without even access to a phone. Bill Clements knew this and made arrangements for me to use the phone at the Wise County National Bank until we set up temporary quarters. The people at the bank— due to Bill’s orders—were helpful in every way possible. Bill had lived in Bristol and knew some things about the community college because of VHCC. He had lived in the Williamsburg or maybe Yorktown area earlier. When living there, he and his wife Ruth Ann were friends with Martha Turnage. Martha was employed by VHCC and later by MECC. She might not have made it to Big Stone Gap had it not been for Bill and Ruth Ann. As a board member, Bill always looked at the operation of the college and not personalities. At one point, we had a “tedious” board meeting and Bill came to my rescue, assuming I needed one. Bill supported the college in every way possible during my six-year period. He truly had the interest of the area and the college at heart. He and Gene Dishner were the two board members who did the most for the college while I was president. Grace Davis should be acknowledged. I also think Mr. Morris should be mentioned. With the very small African American population, his support was important and freely given. So, in summary, Bill Clements brought a business person’s perspective to the board. He was from out of the area, and thus had no one to promote as a member of the college’s faculty or staff. He did not promote Martha Turnage either. He said he knew her and that he liked her, but that was it. By the way, Bill supported industrial 34


development, the Wise County Chamber and so on. He was a good man and a good citizen. I am honored to have known him and to have worked with him. —George Vaughan The first MECC Advisory Board was characterized by outstanding leadership. The presence of these leaders, really helped get the college off on the right foot administratively. Early on, most appointed board members were ill Clements delighted to be a part of the opening of this new educational was the first facility. But, many had no idea what good board membership board chair and he entailed. Bill Clements was the first board chair and he was an excellent selection to lead from day one. Bill was a local was an excellent banker – a highly intelligent business man who had learned selection to lead much about business through what he experienced and most of from day one. what he learned – he learned the old fashioned way – the hard way. Bill was a strong-willed man with a keen sense of right and wrong. And, he was an excellent judge of character. But, most important, Bill knew how to lead an advisory board. Early on, some board members had the impression that they had a say with respect to hiring, firing and other personnel matters. Bill set them straight right away. He told them that he would resign from the board if they ever interfered in personnel matters and then he gently (sometimes not so gently) educated them as to why this type of interference was not appropriate. He carefully guided them in the direction they needed to go and forced them to address matters which were within their scope of responsibility. I learned so much from observing Bill and it should be noted that he trained board members on the job with such skill that it was truly amazing.

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My second story involving Bill centers on a lesson I learned from him, and, it is a lesson I will never forget. What I learned from Bill in this instance helped me throughout my long career in administration and I will forever be grateful to him – even though it was the most painful lesson I ever learned on the job. We had a large number of returning veterans (many stories there as well) during those first couple of years. This large number of students posed quite a challenge for the Financial Aid Office because they had to apply for their benefits late in the summer and, of course, the federal government worked slowly. This meant that there was no way they would receive their benefits in time to pay tuition and purchase their books. At that time, there was no mechanism to defer tuition – it had to be paid on the spot which meant in the absence of cash or their benefits, they simply could not enroll. Well, George, ever the driving force, was not about to lose that large enrollment, nor was he willing to see these returning veterans miss an opportunity to get a richly deserved education. George came to me and asked me to write a proposal to be presented to the local board requesting that they set up a short-term emergency loan fund to accommodate the veterans until their benefits arrived. I was totally inexperienced -- I had no idea how to set up a loan fund, and I had absolutely no experience in writing a proposal. To make a long story short, I went into that board 35


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meeting totally unprepared. I guess I thought I could just “shoot the bull” and they would hand me the money to dole out to the veterans. Wow! What an error in judgment that was on my part. Bill Clements ripped me to shreds with questions about procedures – such as how I would recover the money (imagine that) and his tirade against me went on and on until I finally got a little testy with Bill – just to stop the tirade and get him off my back. I had not done a good job – but I was no shrinking violet even back then and I wasn’t about to let anyone treat me like that. Poor George was mortified! Of course, the board made no decision – they just delayed the decision until the next board meeting.

ill Clements ripped me to shreds with questions about procedures....and his tirade went on and on.....

After the meeting, Bill summoned me to George Vaughan’s office and I expected to be ripped apart again and maybe fired. But instead, Bill smiled at me and said, “You certainly handled yourself well in there – I’m proud of you – you didn’t fold.” Then he told me to go back to my office and develop a sound plan for the administration of the loan fund. I was so humiliated and defeated – but I vowed to myself to get it done. I just did not know how. Several days later, George came into my office and in a very kind way asked me if I was familiar with the seven step problem solving method. I vaguely remembered having seen it in a psychology book or in some course material somewhere. He, however, had a copy of it and he put it in my hand and said he thought it would help me develop the plan. And, it did. I worked for weeks and got some expert advice as well and I presented my new and improved plan to the board the following month. They were absolutely sold and voted on the spot to set up the fund to be administered by my office. The fund enabled a large number of veterans to enroll at MECC in those early days and I am proud to have been able to assist them in a small way! – Bonnie Elosser To achieve its goals, MECC wanted to learn about needs in the area. In October 1972, MECC’s Office of Institutional Research surveyed 22,000 households—44,000 interviews—aimed primarily at discovering the interests and needs of wives in the area. The survey also looked at economic, psychological, and sociological barriers which inhibit continuing education, with the purpose of helping people overcome those barriers. School superintendents in the area agreed to have the surveys administered through high schools. Meanwhile, college personnel were completing other studies. Martha Turnage, Dean of Student Services at MECC and an indefatigable researcher as well as an accomplished writer, published several pieces on education and the area. Ms. Turnage wrote an article on the Mountain Empire’s appeal to outsiders for the September 7, 1972, edition of The Coalfield Progress. In late October, she published a booklet titled “The Principal: Change-Agent in Desegregation.” The work probed desegregation in large and small, rural and urban schools and examined the roles of principals in desegregation. (Release, 1972) In 1973, she completed a study of the relationship between the community college and the community as that relationship affects the college’s contributions in 36


higher education. In her study, MECC served as the model for community colleges across the U. S. Ms. Turnage presented her paper to MECC’s faculty on April 24, 1973. The reality of the relationship between community colleges and their environment will ultimately determine, in my opinion, whether these institutions, over 1,000 strong, will be recognized historically as America’s unique contribution to higher education. For a community college to be what it is because of where it is, there must be an inter-penetration of the life of the community and the life of the college. (This view is shared by Dr. George B. Vaughan, President of Mountain Empire Community College, and Dr. James Carter, Dean of Instruction. They have both endorsed the statements made in this paper, and the position it takes.) Before a community college can expect to make an impact on a community, two conditions must exist within the institution: 1. An understanding of the milieu of the community; 2. A shared commitment to the mission of the college. (Turnage, Mountain Empire: The Community’s College, 1973) In December of 1972, Richard Culliton, speech and drama instructor, produced the college’s first play “Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward. The play began a series of three productions that would include “The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” and “The All New, All True Shakespeare Review.” Richard Culliton was a talented director who, after serving as speech and drama instructor at MECC, went on to write for such television daytime dramas as “The Guiding Light,” “Another World,” and “All My Children.” His play productions while at MECC were excellent. This was my first trip to Big Stone---mid-winter, grey, gloomy---and we went to see Paper Moon at the theatre downtown on Friday and to “The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon-Marigolds” the next night. I was wowed by the production, and Carolyn Culliton’s (Richard’s wife) performance. She was very professional--and this production was much more than I expected in a small college community college. The acting was anything but typical for a small-town production. – Jim Smith

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MECC receives first community college FIPSE Grant — MECC submitted to and received a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) for a project called “Better Information for Student Choice.” It was important to MECC because it was a good project that received a fair amount of national publicity. It was also the first FIPSE grant given to a community college. UCLA, Syracuse, University of California at Irvine, and other big-time schools were involved. MECC stayed with the project, and the college’s proposal was well received. The team of Bonnie Elosser, Bill Carter, Linda Carty (who later went to Virginia Highlands) produced brochures and other literature on MECC’s role. Doyle Rasnick came to work on Saturday to help George Vaughan meet the deadline for the project. “I was desperate to get it in on time, and the four of them really came through. I have always been grateful for their commitment and support. So I think it was important for a new, small college to be a part of an important national project.” – George Vaughan Ms. Bonnie Elosser remembers the diligence and the exceptional effort put into getting that FIPSE Grant. George Vaughan was an amazingly aggressive college president. He and I wrote a FIPSE grant (Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education) and we worked very hard to come up with an innovative proposal. After some eorge, on weeks, we were notified that they had awarded 10 grants nationwide the other and, unfortunately, we were number 11 on the selected list. I was disappointed, but honored, that we had come so close. George, on hand, was not the other hand, was not about to stop there! He called me to his office about to stop and, in my presence, made a phone call to some individual high up in there! the FIPSE program. After some brief small talk, George asked him if any community colleges were represented in the 10 institutions selected. The individual on the other end of the line indicated that, in fact, no community college had ever received a FIPSE grant. Well, George just went to work! He made a great case for having a community college represented and, to make a long story short, we were the first community college to receive one of these prestigious grants – but certainly not the last!

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George was a fighter! Our grant proposal was called “Better Information for Student Choice.” And the goal was to provide the best information possible for prospective students to make the best possible choice when selecting a college. The idea was to provide factual information that would help students learn what distinguishes one institution from the others. It was fascinating. My work with FIPSE put me in touch with very forward thinking individuals from across the United States. In fact, they were some of the brightest people I ever 38


encountered in my career. We were in the big league with respect to FIPSE. George and I actually published an article about the results of our efforts and, lucky for me, I got to be on a National Task Force and I traveled to the West Coast numerous times. The grant involved providing accurate, truthful information about the institution in all aspects of advertising and public relations. It was sort of a truth in advertising thing and resulted in a series of publications from each institution that were then used as national models. Indeed, the FIPSE Grant remains even today very competitive and difficult to acquire, especially for a community college, which must compete with the highest ranking universities across the United States. It is a two-phase process with peer review. Proposals must be innovative and aimed toward service learning and civic engagements that other colleges can learn from and adopt. MECC Dedication On May 16, 1973, Governor Linwood Holton returned to his home town of Big Stone Gap to dedicate MECC. The event was widely reported in area newspapers as it marked a juncture in establishing the college’s importance to and its future in the community. Holton spoke of the college’s certainty. [MECC] “is going to mean an expanded empire for all the people of this area— an expanded empire of education, of economic opportunity, of cultural enrichment.” (Holton, 1973)

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Home Crafts Day – The Beginning Home Crafts Day (later Home Craft Days), deserves a section devoted to its beginnings and its growth over the years. The first Home Crafts Day at MECC was unique in more ways than being number one. It was held on December 9, 1972, with plans to hold two more crafts days--one in May and another during the following summer. Ms. Martha Turnage, Dean of Student and Community Services, supervised the event, and Mr. Roddy Moore, folk culture specialist, arranged for participants. That first Home Crafts Day consisted entirely of local people from the surrounding communities. We asked students to go home and talk to their parents and grandparents about bringing their crafts to the campus for display, and they did. We called it home crafts because people did it in their homes. People discovered they had skills they did not know they had. They learned that things they made at home were of interest to others and they realized value in their works. That first year developed pride. Home Crafts Day became special. Parents and grandparents discovered a link with the college and a way of showing their crafts to the world outside. The community came to campus. Residents of the area accepted the college and felt they were a part of it. Kathy Thornton, who hosted a noon talk show on WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, came down and shot the first year. When that show aired, it opened the event to outside people. As ads hit local newspapers in following years, more people from outside the region showed up. Home Crafts Day expanded to cover a weekend and became Home Craft Days. It became more commercial. But the important outcome was the immediate partnership between the people around the communities and the college. That is what being a community college is all about. – Roddy Moore The event realized immediate participation and involvement from the community. Residents came to campus to demonstrate their skills in making apple butter, weaving, knitting, quilting, creating Christmas toys and dolls, carving “snake” walking sticks, playing music, and clogging. Ms. Turnage invited whole families to “come out and join us,” and they did. Although it rained that Saturday, some 2,000 people came together to celebrate old-time crafts. The theme of that first Home Crafts Day was “Preserving and Learning.” The second Home Crafts Day, “Spring on the Farm,” occurred on May 5, 1973. Events expanded to feature plowing, planting, and log cabin raising. This college crafts day was held in conjunction with the Seventh Annual Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts Festival, a two-day occasion at the National 40


Guard Armory and the June Toliver House in Big Stone Gap. News of the exceptional and popular activities spread beyond the region, thanks to WDBJ, the CBS affiliate in Roanoke, airing reports of the December program. A “Sesame Street” film crew visited MECC’s campus to capture the gathering of people and the making of crafts. One feature in the program was the cabin raising by Jack Mack and other local residents. The raising was shot and later shown in fastmotion so that the cabin went up within a minute. “Sesame Street” scheduled segments of the films to show during the program’s fifth season. Glen Gilbert of Duffield sets up his apple mill.

With the joint efforts and the added attractions, attendance grew to several thousand people. “Two ladies from New York said they saw this Festival advertised in the National Geographic Magazine and came to attend.” (Arts and Crafts Festival is Big Success, 1973) Besides building a log barn and planting two acres of sorghum on college property, the day included a pulling contest for draft horses, sheep shearing, weaving, spinning, and the selling of “cure-alls” by two medicine men. (Crafts ‘N Cures, 1973) Another feature—music—gained popularity during the first two Home Crafts Days. The LENOWISCO area had a rich history of music: from the birth of country music in Bristol, VA, featuring the Carter family from Hiltons, to Ralph Stanley, to Tom Bledsoe and Rich Kirby, who performed at the first Home Crafts Day, to local talents in musical productions such as The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. It was a promising beginning, and that foundation would sustain a long and flourishing development over the next three decades. One notable talent who went on to achieve international fame was John McCutcheon, whose musical skills first became evident during his performances at the college.

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McCutcheon was a regular at Home Crafts Day. He performed during the first several years, playing various instruments. Many Home Crafts Day attendants will recall McCutcheon’s presentations on the hammer dulcimer, an instrument with a history in the area. McCutcheon was a master with the hammer dulcimer.

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I miss the great music in and around BSG. I remember in 1973, I believe, we did a two-day workshop for area secretaries entitled “Girl Friday he second Seminar.”Sexism was obviously still alive and well at that he dropped time. For the second day’s big luncheon for which attendees that first hammer could invite their bosses, we had a $50 entertainment budget. Someone told me about a guy named down, I was John McCutcheon who played a funny transfixed. looking instrument called a hammer dulcimer. I was reluctant. Even more so when he was two or three minutes late and wore old jeans and a flannel shirt. I was sweating through my double knit while he set up, but the second he dropped that first hammer down, I was transfixed. It was just about the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Some months later I hired him to teach a course, paying him those wonderful adjunct rates we’ve always paid. And, he was my second choice instructor! Shape-note singing was real hot among a big slice of the church crowd, and we wanted to do a course on it. There was a barber in Gate City who was the widely acknowledged regional shape-note guru. I spent three afternoons in his shop while he clipped away, trying to talk him into being one of MECC’s finest. He wanted no part of it. So, I had to SETTLE for John McCutcheon who not many years later would become an internationally renowned musician. – Kurt Gottschalk Besides playing the hammer dulcimer, McCutcheon also made dulcimers and taught lessons early in his career. Over the years, he moved on to greater fame while Tom Bledsoe and Rich Kirby continue to organize and manage musical programs for Home Craft Days. After two successful events during its first year, the college held the third Home Crafts Day on November 3, 1973. Its popularity had grown. Several thousand people attended to tour more than forty different activities, including a molasses stir-off, pony pulling, cider making, soap making and hog killing and butchering. The scheduling of the day moved closer to the mid-October date that would become standard. Despite its growing popularity, however, Home Crafts Day faced cancellation as the college entered its third year. In April of 1974, Martha Turnage left her post as Dean of Community Services at MECC to become Dean of Community Development at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College. To complicate the continued scheduling of Home Crafts Day, Roddy Moore had already left his position as folk culture specialist. He would soon become renowned for his work with crafts and 42


music at Ferrum College in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Moore has also worked with the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail, a venture promoting cultural, historical and musical heritage in Virginia. Rod Moore and Martha Turnage had left the college. Both had considerable talents that enabled them to jointly produce MECC’s first Home Crafts Day. When Martha left, I replaced her in the position of Director of Continuing Education and Community Service. Rod Moore’s folklore position was not filled. Shortly after my appointment and as the second year was getting under way, George never said no let me decide whether the college would continue with Home Crafts Day and have it become an annual event as had been envisioned, to anything George offered or whether, with the departure of experts like Moore and Turnage, we should pull the plug on it. Without hesitation, I said let’s keep it. up. To me, I was In my six years at MECC, the implications of that decision are what always fighting I am most proud of. But, it’s important that I put my role in all this in proper context. First, I never said no to anything George offered for my job. up. To me, I was always fighting for my job. And, I was young and too stupid to assess the depth of pools into which I leapt. More importantly, the first-year crew had done the heavy lifting--the blueprint was in place and I just followed it. What it boils down to is that I was in the right place at the right time to play a role in the development of the Home Crafts Day tradition. That feels good. – Kurt Gottschalk

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It was a new beginning for Home Crafts Day, one that would lead to many years of ever more successful programs. I remember Home Crafts Day and how my assignment was to always coordinate the games. A popular contest at that time was the “Tobacco Spitting Contest.” This was always an interesting event especially on windy days. I remember this tall lady who worked with the Home Crafts Day event who had casually remarked that the part-time security guard, a tiny 70-year-old man, had kissed her on the cheek in the elevator. We inquired of her, “How can that be since he is so much shorter than you?” She replied, “Well, I did bend down for him.” – George Edwards

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Learning in Transit (LIT) —

From its beginning, MECC became a leader and an innovator in distance education. George Vaughan proposed to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) that students learn while traveling to MECC’s campus. This proposed program at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC, Virginia) is designed to teach credit courses to students while they are traveling to and from college. About 86% of the potential student population at MECC will spend from one to over three hours a day commuting. Six adequately equipped buses would facilitate a productive use of this time by offering individualized instruction in transit. It would decrease transportation cost and offer educational and cultural opportunities to more people. Stable classrooms for those who cannot travel, mobile counseling vans, and trips to concerts and other cultural offerings are other services these buses would provide. (Vaughan, ERIC Education Resources Information Center, 1972) ARC liked Vaughan’s proposal and funded the grant based upon its novel approach to instruction while in transit. The remote and sparsely populated areas served by MECC supported his case that many students would benefit educationally and culturally. Why spend that time gazing out a window? Students could learn—if they rode buses equipped with materials and a method of delivery. The design of the buses had to support traveling classrooms. Traditional Greyhound or Trailway buses would not do. The buses had to be a hybrid of the modern RV designed for LIT, a combo44


transportation/education vehicle, and a lecture/study hall on wheels. President Vaughan awarded the project of building Learning-in-Transit buses to Gayle Bellamy and his two sons, Doug and Harvey, of Scott County. His orders? To put together buses that were comfortable and that were equipped with audio-video devices—cassette recorders, 8-track tape players, AC generators with outlets, movie projectors and pull-down screens, and AM-FM radio. The buses also had to have restrooms (before the college had facilities!) and air conditioning for stationary classes off campus. The Bellamys, Doyle Rasnick recalled, “bought Ford trucks, took the cabs off, cut the chasses in half to extend the trucks, and built coaches from sheet metal on the chasses.”

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o one would have questioned the venture’s probable success at its inception. It was daring; it was innovative; it was distance learning at its most adventurous.

The LIT buses represented a bold plan to offer students opportunities for free transportation and to learn as they traveled to and from college. No one would have questioned the venture’s probable success at its inception. It was daring; it was innovative; it was distance learning at its most adventurous. Its design and potential certainly were worth exploring.

And explore the college did. LIT buses traveled across Lee, Scott, Wise, half of Dickenson Counties, and through the City of Norton, picking up students and hauling them to campus. Instructors signed up to teach on the buses or to act as instructional aides for students. Students used the flip-down trays on the seatbacks for typing or for listening to tapes from a foreign language class. They also had instructional tapes of English assignments. Some classes, such as math, were taught on the buses while in route or at stationary locations. “I had an algebra class at Cumberland Bowl State Park in Jonesville and another at Norton where the pool is now.” – Bill Harris The buses were built and finished, that allowed students to work while being driven to school. This was a big thing, advertised and pushed by the college. I knew a few kids who used them, but not many. It seemed like a good, practical concept, but in actuality, it didn’t work quite the way it was supposed to, as far as I remember. – Diane Hendrick Marks The project faced many obstacles and it was often criticized. Several problems hindered learning on moving vehicles. Motion sickness occurred commonly. People couldn’t write or think because of curvy roads. Adding to the uncomfortable conditions, fumes from the generators occasionally escaped into the coach area, causing breathing problems, dizziness, and headaches. And finally, instructors found it difficult to manage lecturing and audio-visual devices while on a moving vehicle. I would submit that no one on the face of the earth could have made that highly innovative, but unworkable project a success. But no one can say we did not try! Some things are just not meant to be - and learning in transit on windy mountain roads might just be one of those things! – Bonnie Elosser 45


Things were not going well – not well at all. George was not amused and the buses began arriving on campus nearly empty each morning. Perry and I did our best – but the students basically arrived on campus one student per car and no matter what we said, they could not be persuaded to ride the buses. One of the major problems was the “ride.” It was rough and people tended to get sick just riding – and then trying to read, write or watch something really made it worse! In fact, prior to implementing the project, the faculty took a field trip to Lee County on one of the buses – just a jolly little trial run – and almost everyone was queasy by the time we stopped for lunch! One day when all the buses arrived with almost no students, Perry threatened to get inflatable dummies and put them in all the seats! He just didn’t want to face George Vaughan one more time to talk about the absence of riders. Perry and I were receiving major pressure from George Vaughan. This was a major, high visibility project and George did not intend it to fail. We were beginning to panic. Perry had a big map in his office that had colored push pins all over it. I never did know what the pins represented as we had practically no riders and it certainly could not have been the locations of bus stops. At any rate, Perry, who later became a highly valued employee, nearly lost his job. In fact, he just had a blistering memorandum concerning his poor job performance removed from his file only a few years ago! We never did know for sure why the project failed and why students did not ride the buses. The bumpy ride was certainly a major factor – but the other reason was more subtle. It became evident that many of the students who just graduated from high school rode buses all through their public school days and many had acquired cars to drive to college. They simply were not about to park those cars and go to back to riding a bus to school! And, interestingly, many of these students indicated that their parents had purchased cars for them almost as a bribe – they said, “If you’ll go to MECC and stay at home – we’ll buy you a car.” – Bonnie Elosser

I Owe Most of it to Bonnie Elosser — Bonnie Elosser had taken me under her wing when I was a student at Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia and she was a faculty member. Bonnie had recently been employed by Mountain Empire Community College as Director of Financial Aid. She knew I had recently graduated and was looking for employment. I had just returned from my honeymoon in August 1972 and there was a note from Bonnie attached to the front door of my mobile home in Wise. The note explained that there was an opening at the new community college in Big Stone Gap for a Coordinator of Learning in Transit. I applied for the position and I remember my interview with President George Vaughan and Academic Dean Jim Carter that 46


took place in a little green building in downtown Big Stone Gap in August of 1972 (where MEOC is currently located). I’m not sure if I interviewed that well or if Bonnie was the major factor in them offering me the position at a salary of $10,000. I was working a temporary job at CVC at the time and when I announced my intent to accept the position at MECC, Dean Jack Holland made the statement that no one was worth that much money. And for me, in 1972 that was a great deal of money. So I began work at MECC on September 9, 1972, as Coordinator of the Learning in Transit Project. George Vaughan, being the progressive community college president he was, came up with the idea that since students were traveling such a distance to the college, if he could obtain funding to build five buses equipped with audio/video learning packages, the student could take classes on the road to the college. He obtained funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and contracted with Gale Bellamy in Hiltons, Virginia, to build and equip the buses. Gale built the buses on an extended truck chassis and included a generator in the rear to provide electricity for the AV equipment. Faculty were planning to develop their classes into learning packages that students could view while in transit. After a little more than a year as coordinator of this project, it became fairly obvious that this inexperienced young college graduate had no idea how to make the project work. At that time, George Vaughan placed a rather stern memo in my personnel file indicating his displeasure with my progress. There were a lot of technical problems with the project that I won’t go into here. However, I was very fortunate that the Coordinator of Admissions and Records, Gary Burchett, had just accepted the position as President of Lincoln Memorial University. Once again, Bonnie Elosser came to the rescue of my professional career. President Vaughan offered Bonnie the position of Director of Student Services which would include Financial Aid, Advising, and Admissions and Records. Bonnie countered that she would accept the Director of Student nd, as Dr. Vaughan Services position if Dr. Vaughan would place me in was leaving as the Coordinator of Admissions and Records position, president of MECC, I had reporting directly to her. That began what I have to believe became a successful 34 year career as the the opportunity to ask administrator of the Admission, Records, and Financial him if he would be willing Aid programs at the college. And, as Dr. Vaughan was to remove the letter of leaving as president of MECC, I had the opportunity to ask him if he would be willing to remove the letter of reprimand from my file. reprimand from my file. He had forgotten about it over the years, but he did pull it from my file and toss it in the trash. Then he thanked me. George Vaughan is a good man, and he was the person the college needed in those formative years. – Perry Carroll

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Chris Allgyer recalls that he and Sam Dillon taught classes in Clintwood. The trips were slow and difficult along the old roads, as Route 23 was not four lanes in 1973. Because the buses were equipped with governors, speeds dropped to 20 miles per hour on several hills. The curves and fumes made Chris and Sam ill. On the final trip riding the bus, Sam Dillon asked the driver to stop at Plaza Drugs in Big Stone Gap. Sam went in and purchased Dramamine and Pepto-Bismol and charged the bill to the college. After that, the college arranged for faculty to drive state cars to off-campus classes. The college looked for other practical ways of using the buses. In September 1973, college employees rode two of the buses on a tour of the service area. The buses stopped in the western end of Lee County beyond Ewing near the Cumberland Gap for lunch in a white house on a hill. – Louis Collier. Every college employee made the trip. Perry Carroll drove one bus, and James Carter played Merle Haggard songs during the trip. When the college began its “Family College Nights” in 1974, the buses became a major impetus in bringing more students to class during the evenings. More than thirty credit and non-credit classes, children’s activities, movies and other programs ran on Tuesday and Thursday nights. The college offered area people of all ages educational and interest activities. “People often complain of having nothing to do and we are doing something about this. Our buses will make round trips on these routes from Gate City, Norton, and Pennington Gap . . . .” (Turnage, 1974) I will tell you what they wanted us to do. It was to teach keyboarding on the Learning-inTransit buses. They took me all the way down to Rose Hill, somewhere way down there - Ewing or Rose Hill. And they had these little red typewriters. I’ll never forget it, and there was a little red table pulled out of the back of the seat in front of you, and you set that typewriter down on it. Now, back then I was really small, but I had to push my elbows in and sit. It was horrible. There was no way it could ever work, so it was never promoted. And besides, kids that had to get on that bus between 5 and 5:30 in the morning slept the whole way to campus. They did not want to do any course work. And we took Mr. Hood, he was the driver of the bus, and he took me and another lady up to Keokee. You know that straight hill? Well, the bus got hot and just died. And he said, “Well, we will just have to sit here for 25 minutes until it cools off.” – Ann Davis By 1975 the college no longer scheduled classes on the LIT buses while in transit to and from the college. Instructors rode the buses to a location where they parked. Students loaded onto the buses for classes. While this arrangement worked for most lecture and discussion classes, use of the buses continued to have limited success. During Summer Session of 1975, the buses were driven to sites in Lee County to instruct teenagers in a CETA summer work program, directed by Bridgett Cheek. The college joined with CETA to: 48


Offer work to those with low incomes and the long term unemployed as well as summer jobs to low income high school students. Full time jobs were provided for a period of 12 to 24 months in public agencies or private not for profit organizations. The intent was to impart a marketable skill that would allow participants to move to an unsubsidized job. It was an extension of the Works Progress Administration program from the 1930s. The Act was intended to decentralize control of federally controlled job training programs, giving more power to the individual state governments. Nine years later, it was replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act. Once again, the buses opened new roads into community service through distance education. (Wikipedia, 2008) Use of LIT buses, however, was in decline at MECC. One by one, the buses were assigned to other colleges and other uses. They would be used less and less until they finally disappeared from the roads.

A Day without the Sunset was not a complete day —

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Nobody knows who first discovered The Sunset Inn located a mile from unches campus on old Route 23 South. Stories vary. Tom Burke and Gary became daily Bumgarner believe they first tabled at The Sunset in the fall of 1973. pilgrimages down Bernie Spencer and Van Rose remember tabling there as early as Sepold Route 23. tember of ’73. It’s doubtful any other college employee found The Sunset before these four because they had noses for watering holes; Tom, Gary, Bernie, and Van cannot recall ever seeing anyone else from MECC there during their afternoon visits that fall. (The Sunset was totally off-limits after dark. More on that later.) Jay Grubb opened The Sunset Inn sometime during the summer of 1973. He told Burke/Bumgarner, and Spencer/Rose that he wanted the bar to be the “college pub” of the new community college. Jay had been a career sailor in the U. S. Navy. He knew something about pubs. He knew that he believed he could have that one particular bar that could be a harbor to academic souls. The Sunset was the way a college pub should be, the way a pub should feel. The way a pub should taste. It was rustic with cotton curtains bordering windowpanes. Quiet in the afternoons, save for the jukebox twanging country and rock tunes in the background. The glow of a fireplace against our customers’ backs while November’s first snows drifted down outside. No glasses. Longnecks, chilled and dew-misted. Stroh’s. Pabst Blue Ribbons. Kick back and enjoy with the slow pace and ease of rumination with a friend after a day of classes. Hungry? Jay Grubb’s cheeseburgers were served hot off the grill—80/20 beef, fresh ground daily, fully loaded with mayo, mustard, onion, lettuce, tomato, and melted cheese—a juicy creation that conjured Jimmy Buffett’s lyrics about eating in paradise. “Not too particular, not too precise/ big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer/ I’m just a cheeseburger in paradise.” For a while The Sunset was a haven of retreat and a private sanctuary to a select few. But not for long. Word spread--about ambience, about burgers and beer. Students began to discover The Sunset. Enrollees in MECC’s Mining Engineering Program held afternoon review sessions in the 49


bar lounge. Their SUVs and four-wheeling pickups filled the parking lot. They drank Michelob instead of Pabst. They held spirited debates on class topics, management, unions, and the future of coal mining in Appalachia. Lunch at the (infamous) Sunset Inn was the standard by which all meals were measured. The beer was cold and the cheeseburgers were hot, greasy and made to order. There were no food services at MECC in the 70s and being the closest eatery made the Sunset Inn a prime target for students and instructors alike. Why stop discussing earth-changing ideas and revelations just because class was over? We all just met at the Sunset and continued the conversation over lunch. – Fred Coeburn More students joined the festivities day after day until, by Fall Quarter 1974, The Sunset was a feast hall for the masses from MECC. Lunches became daily pilgrimages down old Route 23. Upwards to twenty faculty and 200 students gathered for dining. On one occasion, President Vaughan, Dean James Carter, Mining Engineering Chair Revonda Williams, and Arts and Sciences Chairman Ben Wheless—after some persuasion—joined the crowd. It was the place to be. It was convivial, boisterous, and primal. By then the cheeseburgers were legendary. Jay Grubb was the burger-master of Big Stone. Nobody fretted about The Sunset’s suitability. Few in the crowd knew its reputation. Faculty from outside the area believed a college pub was a virtue. Oh, they knew the place could become raucous after dark. Most faculty members never darkened the establishment’s door after sunset. They were there for the relaxation and conversation over a beer and some chow. They had heard stories about local ruffians breaking out in drunken brawls, but none of that dampened their enthusiasm for good food and drink. They were young and hungry. But there were stories. There was the time Bill Carter returned to campus after lunching at The Sunset and rumors flew that Mr. Carter was swinging from the plastic palm plant in Godwin Hall. He was wearing his outdoor fedora—the one that looked like a fisherman’s hat--and penny loafers with no socks. They say it was when Bill was in love that his socks came off. In one of Van Rose’s American lit classes, women raised questions: “Does your wife know you’re going to The Sunset?” Those women clearly had objections to anybody going to The Sunset at any time—day or night. “I would never allow my husband in that place!” “If he went there, he might as well not come home again!” Van Rose was naive. He asked why they felt so negative about such a grand pub. “You don’t know?” they asked. “You don’t know what went on there all the way back into the forties?” He didn’t. “It was a whorehouse! All those little cabins out back were rented by the hour!” 50


It was all true, of course. Most people around Wise County knew all along. Tommy Masters, owner of K & M Cleaners at the bottom of Country Boy Hill (Tommy had a great baritone voice and was the original Devil Judd in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine for years) told Tom Burke, “I used to make two or three trips down there (to The Sunset) every day to pick up and deliver sheets.” According to Dr. Lawrence Fleenor, The Sunset Inn was probably built in the 1920s. Fleenor based his estimate on the architecture of the buildings and his knowledge of the area. “That road was the only way into town, and nobody built businesses in the 30s. The Sunset was what was commonly called a motor court back then or a roadhouse.��� “Roadhouse” was a term with various definitions usually including an inn on a main road outside a town with a restaurant and bar with dancing and lodging and (sometimes) companion accommodations.

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he Sunset was what was commonly called a motor court back then or a roadhouse.

That didn’t faze customers out to dine at lunch. They continued to frequent the pub until Jay Grubb sold it around 1978. After those boom years, The Sunset’s business declined. A year or so later The Sunset went up in a great blaze of fire and was extinguished . . . forever. But for those few years, The Sunset was a relaxing and refreshing end to Patrons’ days.

Streaking at MECC — In 1974 streaking reached its peak as a way for youth to shock the public. MECC had two incidents of streaking during the early 70s. The first incident did not happen on MECC’s campus, but it did involve students from the college. In the spring of 1973 and 1974, the Virginia Community Colleges had “Play Day” at Lynchburg, Virginia. Many of our students and faculty attended for the weekend, playing intramural sports (including tug-of-war) on Saturday then partying and dancing that night. We had a great time!!! In 1973, four NOVA students entertained us at the motel, “streaking” around the parking lot. The police were called and SOMEHOW (I don’t know how) these guys found MECC students’ rooms to hide in. . . . – Maggie Buckles Shortt The second streaking incident was pure MECC. It occurred in late May 1974, near the end of the school year. Perhaps the streakers hoped the college would look on a venial trespass less severely late in the Spring Quarter. 51


The college was new and small. Word of the planned streaking spread through the hallways of the two buildings the morning before the streakers made their run. By high noon—the hour rumored for streaking—MECC’s halls were lined with students, faculty, and administrators, waiting for the streakers to make their run Shortly after high noon, a car drove onto the parking lot and stopped near the entrance at the north end Building B (Holton Hall). Two males wearing only red ski masks and tennis shoes jumped from the car and entered the building, racing down the hall and out the exit that led across the walkway into the upstairs hall of Building A (Godwin Hall). The boys entered Building A and ran through the upstairs hall, down the stairway and into the downstairs hallway. Approximately 200 onlookers lined the walls of this lower hall, people standing shoulder to shoulder. It was a potentially hazardous combination. A crowded hall, a goodly amount of social tension filling the air as the spectators awaited the demonstration. And then the two unclad marathoners scooted through the door. At first, there was a total silence, except for the sounds of heavy breathing from the two runners and the clap of sneakers on the floor. This act was extraordinary. Nobody knew what to do. Nobody dared move or to interfere. The bystanders were paralyzed, peering yet not looking, observing in that sideways, sly glance that came from embarrassment and curiosity. This was a social phenomenon of behavior far beyond belief. As the runners scampered past observers, people began to laugh and some shouted words of support and encouragement. The clamor caused anticipation to build farther up the hall. Witnesses gawked as they maneuvered for a better view through the crowd. The streakers ran with an urgency of wanting to complete their mission and escape from the confines as quickly as possible. In less than a minute they exited Building n less than a minute A onto the parking lot where they discovered the driver with the they exited Building getaway car had not arrived yet. The onlookers thought for a moment that the two might have to walk to town in the buff. They A onto the parking lot turned about, searching for the car as the crowd inside watched where they discovered through the exit doors. Finally, the car arrived. Eyewitnesses reported that they heard some oaths from the streakers as they the driver with the loaded into the back seat of the getaway car. They acknowledged getaway car had not that one streaker was a brunette and the other was a blond, but arrived yet. not one witness offered to identify the two masked men.

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Years later, one of the “alleged” streakers observed that streaking was a precarious act because any of the onlookers could have extended a foot and tripped the runners. He also suggested that, had the escape car not arrived, the streakers would no doubt have faced arrest before they found safe harbor.

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The College Faces Change – 1974 – 1978 By the end of the second full year of operation, enrollment at MECC had nearly doubled—from 611 full-time equivalents (FTE) in 1972 to 1066 FTEs in 1974. Another milestone occurred that June. The first graduation for two-year degree candidates took place on Friday, June 14. A class of 76 graduates heard Dr. Joseph Smiddy deliver the commencement address. Graduation day turned out to be bright and sunny, which was very appropriate for the two years we spent there. Our graduation, the first for two year students, was held outside at the parking lot end of the front building. The choir sang, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel. Unknown to us, this was one of Dr. Vaughan’s favorite songs. He worked that song into the speech and brought it around to the creation of MECC being like a bridge being built over troubled waters, but we had all succeeded in crossing that bridge . . . we the graduates and we the community of MECC. – Diane Hendrick Marks In December 1974, MECC received full accreditation from and membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Accreditation was achieved in the shortest time possible. Part of the reason for this quick accreditation should be attributed to President Vaughan’s timely application for status as a recognized candidate for accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Vaughan had submitted the college’s application by May 1972, a full three months before the college opened. He completed a full written status report for the college’s candidacy to the Executive Secretary of SACS on August 25, 1972. The college set up committees according to SACS’s “standards” for accreditation. Selected committees reviewed institutional purposes, college programs, facilities, staffing, and educational programs during the 1973 -1974 academic year. This initial self-study was critical not only because accreditation was essential to MECC’s future, but also because almost every person at the college had no experience with SACS requirements and procedures. Fortunately, the college did have Mr. Ben Wheless, who was on the SACS steering committee. In his relationship with the commission, Mr. Wheless also enjoyed close ties with SACS’s personnel, including Bennett J. Hudson, Assistant Executive Secretary of the Commission on Colleges, who led the SACS Evaluation Committee for MECC. While Mr. Wheless’s connections with SACS did not gain unfair favor with the commission, his knowledge of SACS’s requirements and procedures did help MECC’s self-study team explore college standards and write the report. SACS’s Evaluation Committee visited MECC on May 7 – 10, 1974, and followed that visit with recommendations for improvement. Recommendations were routine and minimal for a new institution (17 recommendations in all and 17 suggestions). The college submitted a written reply to the commission in August, and President George Vaughan prepared to appear before the SACS Admissions Committee during its meetings October 23 – 25, 1974. At its annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, in December 1974, SACS awarded full accreditation to MECC. Receiving full SACS accreditation meant that the college’s graduates could transfer easily 53


into four-year colleges and universities. Dr. Vaughan credited the faculty, the students, the College Board, and the staff of the institution for their work leading to successful accrediting. That year—December 1973, I believe—MECC sent several people to the SACS Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. All committee chairs went, along with the college president, several administrators, including Mr. Ben Wheless, and most of the college board members. To say the trip was a bonus for all of us would greatly understate our sense of reward. We were young—at least the faculty members who served as self-study committee chairs were young. Our recall standing enthusiasm and collegial dedication soared. We roomed in New on Bourbon Orleans’ finest hotels (La Pavillion, The Saint Louis, the Astor), ate in sumptuous restaurants in the French Quarter, and toured Street with Mr. Canal and Bourbon Streets as well as Jackson Square. Evenings Wheless as we we spent walking and taking photos of mimes and landmarks and listened to a streetstopping occasionally at pubs that were no more than holes in the walls. I recall standing on Bourbon Street with Mr. Wheless as corner minister we listened to a street-corner minister preach with great fervor preach with great about the end of time. Time seemed suspended for us. There fervor about the was also the late night (or early morning) search along back end of time. alleys for a respectable bar, a noble quest undertaken by Gary Bumgarner, Art Moore, and me. We had already visited some of New Orleans’ most popular establishments and we were well served by that hour. With one last stop at a pub, we quenched our thirst. Of the three of us, the usually balanced individual had to lean on the other two’s shoulders to make the journey across those bourbonbesotted streets to his hotel room. And, of course, we attended SACS Conference meetings during our daily working hours. We worked and learned, but we found time to enjoy the venue and to bolster our special camaraderie. It was a wonderful trip, a grand crowning to the months of work spent on the self study. – Van Rose

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With initial success for official recognition, the college moved forward with its flourishing programs and sought to upgrade lagging curricula or to replace weak ones. MECC continued to offer ceramics and pottery; however, woodworking and metals faced difficulties and plans turned toward more practical programs that would garner higher enrollment numbers and offer jobs for graduates in the area. Allied health curricula gained interest. A respiratory therapy certificate, the first allied health program, began in July 1974 with an enrollment cap of fourteen students (another student was added when classes began). It offered a four-quarter, one-year certificate to successful graduates, who had to complete a board examination. Students could enter the curriculum during summer quarter and fulfill graduation requirements the following spring quarter. Graduates would have excellent employment opportunities within the region, with entry salaries of $600 a month and upward. (News, 1974) The Respiratory Therapy Program at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) began operations in the summer of 1974 with 15 students entering the 54


program. The first director of the program was Mr. Richard G. Myers, BS, RRT. The first class graduated spring quarter 1975. The program successfully completed its first accreditation review in the 1975-76 academic year under the direction of Mr. Myers. MECC earned its accreditation status through July, 1978. Mr. Myers resigned as program director and was replaced by Mr. Darrell Eastridge, BS, RRT in 1977. Eastridge held this position until 1979 and was replaced by Mr. Michael Cook, RRT. Under Mr. Cook’s direction, there have been several changes. The first was the completion of the second accreditation review in 1979. As a result of that review, the program added a second faculty position, the Director of Clinical Education, filled by Mr. Roger Thompson, RRT in 1982. In 1986, the program successfully completed its third accreditation review. A 1985 facilities expansion at MECC involved the program with the addition of a new building to house the Learning Resources and Health Science programs. The upgraded facility provided the needed space for separate lecture and laboratory for both the Respiratory Therapy and Nursing programs. In 1987 the Virginia Community College System converted from a quarter to a semester system. During the transition, the program, under the direction of the Advisory Committee, expanded from a 40 week to 50 week structure. The new structure changed the program from a four quarter to a four semester program increasing the credits from 47 to 57 and awarding a diploma in place of a certificate. In 1988, with the opening of Robb Hall, the respiratory care program received recommendation from its local advisory board and approval from the VCCS to expand into a 14-month diploma curriculum. The advisory committee recommended the change in September 1986, and MECC’s Instruction and Curriculum Committee accepted the upgrades in June 1987. Respiratory care instructors Mike Cook and Roger Thompson were very enthusiastic about the new design. “We will now have a greater length of time to work with the students and develop their competence in the critical care areas such as mechanical support of ventilation, arterial blood analysis, diagnostic testing, and home health care.” (MECC News Release, 1988) Under the direction of the program advisory committee, college administration, and faculty, it was decided to add a new component to the program in 1997. The program developed a second certificate to implement in the fall semester of 1997, providing an avenue for the graduates of the entry-level program to gain the advanced credentials of the Registered Respiratory Therapist. The program developed a 1 + 1 format using a non-traditional structure allowing students to complete the requirements for RRT eligibility. This program operated for four years 55


allowing the community to develop several new Registered Respiratory Therapists in the service area of MECC. By increasing the number of RRT credentialed individuals in the service area, the curriculum allowed easier transition to a traditional Advanced-Level Registered Respiratory Therapy program by providing qualified clinical supervisors to assist with the clinical component of an associate degree program. In the 2000 academic year, the Respiratory Therapy program received approval from the Virginia Community College System and the Virginia State Council for Higher Education in Virginia to convert the diploma program into an Associate in Applied Science Degree program. Under the direction of the advisory committee, college administration, and Instruction and Curriculum Committee, the curriculum was designed and set in place to begin the first traditional Advanced-Level Respiratory Therapy program at MECC. Since the expansion of the Respiratory Therapy program, additional health related programs have been initiated at MECC. Other programs include Licensed Practical Nursing Program, Paramedic Program, Medical Laboratory Assistant Program, Emergency Medical Technician, Medical Records Clerk, Medical Transcription, Nursing Assistant, Pharmacy Aide, Phlebotomy, Physical Therapy Assistant Program, Radiology Program, Occupational Therapy Assistant Program and Pre-Funeral Services Program. MECC partners with several community colleges throughout the state to offer some of these medical programs. MECC also has joint agreements with several universities offering advanced degrees at the MECC campus. There is an articulation agreement between MECC and East Tennessee State University offering a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science, Respiratory Care. Both faculty members are graduates of the MECC Respiratory Therapy program. Mr. Cook graduated from the first (1974-75) class of graduates of the program. Mr. Thompson graduated from the program in the 1977-78 class. – Michael Cook Respiratory therapy had its share of colorful people during its early years: Richard Myers, the first director and instructor, was a chain smoker. In those days, though, smoking was common at MECC. In fact, the college supplied tinsel ashtrays with college ads printed on the sides for smokers. Instructors and students smoked during classes. One of the program’s most memorable students was George Swords, a Vietnam veteran who visited a massage parlor in North Carolina one weekend and brought back a pair of white shorts and a pair of looped earrings as proof of his visit for all his earing cowboy boots, MECC friends who demanded evidence. George called a massage parlor a may-sage parlor, with heavy emphasis on he walked through the long a syllable. His dialectic pronunciation became a ICU at Lonesome Pine widely used term for many of his friends, who went around Hospital one morning saying, “George is going to visit a may-sage parlor.” George had an odd way of walking that resulted in his feet slapping sounding like a Clydesdale.

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loudly on the floor. Wearing cowboy boots, he walked through ICU at Lonesome Pine Hospital one morning sounding like a Clydesdale. His nurse supervisor commented that George had to “do something about the way he walked!” Ever the character, George taped two-by-eight boards to his shoes and clopped down the hospital hall. His supervisor never complained about his noisy amble again. In March 1975, MECC announced plans to join with Virginia Highlands Community College to offer twelve students enrollment in a nursing program beginning in the fall quarter. Virginia Highlands had offered nursing since 1972, a two-college program (with Southwest Virginia Community College) with three instructors and thirty-four students. The seven-quarter curriculum featured classroom instruction combined with practical experience in local health facilities. That announcement marked the beginning of a fast-growing and very effective curriculum. Only a few months later in July 1975, Ms. Lois Caldwell was appointed assistant professor of nursing for Southwest Virginia Community College Nursing program. With Ms. Caldwell’s appointment, the program upgraded to Tri-college Nursing program on July 1. In the summer of 1976, the three-college program was approved and the name became the Virginia Appalachian Tri-college Nursing Program. Also in 1976, the program received accreditation from the National League for Nursing. With this new three-college program, first-year nursing courses and support courses were offered at all three campuses, with second-year nursing courses still taught at VHCC. In 1984, an additional section was added. This part of the program is located in Grundy and is financed partially by a JTPA grant. Nursing became a solid program at the college, growing over the years. The two full-time instructors at MECC, Ms. Lois Caldwell and Ms. Elizabeth Dishner, were well qualified, devoted to program excellence, and energetic. Along with qualified faculty at the Virginia Highlands and Southwest Virginia Community College campuses, they formed a highly capable instructional team. Prospective students applied for acceptance into the program by January 15 of each year, completed a related battery of tests with satisfactory scores, competed with other applicants, and appeared before an interview committee of selected college personnel before approval into the program. Gaining entrance was highly competitive from the beginning, assuring nursing as a high-profile, high performance curriculum. Students had to have at least a C average in all academic courses excluding foreign language, and they had to receive at least a C average on all nursing classes or repeat any classes in which they earned below a C. Graduates were eligible for the state board examination (SBTP) leading to licensure as a registered nurse (RN) and an associate in applied science degree in health technology with a major in nursing. By February 1976 the success of nursing led to MECC offering an additional allied health curriculum in radiologic technology. Respiratory therapy continued its role as a successful program. – Johanne Watson Enrollment into the nursing programs on each campus has steadily increased and the program now 57


accepts 150 to 200 new students each year. The program is able to offer the majority of students their clinical experience close to their home campus and second-year classes are now taught on each of the three main campuses via the Virginia Distance Education Network (VDEN). Since its beginning in 1972, the program has graduated over 3,000 students. Currently, successful graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLE) for licensure as an RN. The Virginia Appalachian Tri-college Nursing Program continues to grow and to develop this program. 1975 saw several other developments of note at MECC. The college offered a six-quarter, two-year associate in applied science degree in electronics technology. Completion of the degree requirements offered graduates the opportunities to obtain high level federal licensing in communications technologies, and MECC’s placement services aided graduates in finding employment. In June 1975, Harry W. Meador, Jr., Vice-president of Operations at Westmoreland Coal Company, gave the commencement address at the college’s third graduation exercise. Sixty-four students received degrees. That summer, the college drama club, The Thespians, performed Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the lawn of the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap. The community college nights’ program expanded to three nights a week with 2,000 people enrolled in classes, including sixteen business courses and a special series on current topics. One such topic was the movie “Future Shock” and its implications on society. The college continued to offer training for women entering the workforce. In April of ’75, a “Women in Management” seminar was sponsored by the National Secretaries Association (NSA). On the occasion of the 24th annual Secretaries’ Week, Rosamond Nelson and Shirley Wells appeared on WJHL TV’s “Kathryn Willis” Show. Also, Thelma Lockhard was selected Secretary of the Year by the Mountain Empire Chapter of NSA. Fifty-four students out of 338 made the dean’s list. Home Crafts Day had over 4,000 attendees. On a negative note, the staff of the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission ( JLARC) charged that MECC was among VCCS colleges that “inflated enrollment,” resulting in MECC’s “poor performance and $156,613 overfunding.” The study was refuted, however, by Chancellor Dana Hamel of the VCCS. The VCCS reported that funds during the 1970 – 72 and 1973 – 74 biennia “were expended with appropriate authority and were never intentionally inflated.” JLARC accepted the reply and the matter was resolved. (Staff, 1975) MECC enrollment continued to grow, registering a record of 1298 students for Fall Quarter 1975. As a part of the growth, the college expanded Family College Nights to four nights a week, with fifteen new classes. MECC offered eighteen different curricula, including mining technology and supervision, a six-quarter program of on-the-job experiences and classroom instruction. LIT buses were discontinued for Family College Nights; however, they were still used in vocational programs. In October 1975, MECC offered metric classes in response to a federal law mandating that corporations and states convert to metrics. Home Crafts Day was held on November 1. Broom making, blacksmithing, basket weaving, hog butchering, and music were featured. George Vaughan reported it was the best Home Crafts Day yet. Mining technology grew, and the college offered 58


emergency medical training classes for miners. The Lee-Norse Division of Ingersoll-Rand Co. of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, presented the college with the Electric Training Aid Package, enabling miners to repair electrical circuitry and motors on mining equipment. Ingersoll-Rand operated a manufacturing facility in Wise, Virginia, during the 70s. In December the college’s drama club presented “The Christmasing of Detroit Louie.” While VCCS enrollment grew by 30 percent in 1975, MECC’s enrollment was up 18 to 23 percent. This disparity boded future trends.

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hile VCCS enrollment grew by 30 percent in 1975, MECC’s enrollment was up 18 to 23 percent.

I became a student in 1975. I had just graduated from high school a few months earlier and I was sitting around the house when a buddy of mine dropped in. This was late August of 1975. He asked me what my plans were now that we were out of high school. I said, “I really don’t have a clue. Planning was never really my strong suit.” I asked him, “What do you think we should do?” He replied, “Let’s go to MECC”. I asked him what are we going to major in at MECC. He said, “Let’s take electronics.” I replied, “Sounds like fun to me; let’s go for it.” We left my house right then and arrived at MECC and classes had already started a day earlier so we just trotted into Godwin and signed up for electronics technology. Within an hour or so we were sitting in Mr. Webb’s electronics class in Holton Hall. Back then the electronics lab was located where the dining area of the grill is now. That space was divided between Mr. Webb’s electronics lab and Jerry Laney’s drafting lab. Oddly enough the lab directly across the hall from us was the pottery lab -- science on one side of the hall and arts/crafts on the other. This made for some real interesting conversations in the hall during breaks.

The orientation class was truly a memorable experience. It pretty much consisted of a tour of the two buildings (Godwin and Holton), an introduction to the library, in Godwin at the time, and then the instructor blindfolded all the students, instructed us to hold on to each other, and the instructor led us around campus. This blind walk also included a trip down the top of the rock wall between Godwin and Holton – talk about student bonding – you’ll make some friends and enemies on a trip like that. We had a great time. – Fred Coeburn

Do You Remember the Grand Cracker’s Neck Marathon? — There were two marathon parties. The First Annual was held on August 23, 1975, and the Second Annual on September 25, 1976. Both were events hosted by Kurt and Jewell-Ann Gottschalk, with the help of many others. Among those who helped, Jim Smith did the most and should be considered a co-host. The idea for the event came about when Jim and I drove around the block/valley from where I 59


lived and discovered that it measured 6 miles--real close to the length of a 10K race. For Southwest Virginia this was the early dawn of running 10K races. We decided to build a party around a running race and to call it the Grand Cracker’s Neck Marathon. We had two events--the 6-mile run, which only drew a few folks, and the team relay. Based on the results from everyone’s “Runner’s Ability Assessment Form,” teams were picked, team jerseys were distributed, teams huddled and strategized, and then runners were dropped off by pickup along the course at starting points. Then, on horseback, Jim Carter in front of our house started the race by pistol shot. A unique feature of the marathon was that competing 6-mile runners as well as relay teams ran in opposite directions around Crackers Neck Valley. The only times runners could determine where they stood was when relay team members passed batons to runners for the next leg. The most difficult segment of the race was Chicken Parts Hill, an incline where a runner could win or die. In the 6-mile event, two major competitors stood out. They were “Crazy Legs Bass” and Steve “Twig” Baskin---who traveled long distances to the second race. They developed a pro-wrestlingstyle “rivalry” with a great deal of trash talk involved. Both runners spent weeks in rigorous training before race day and they finished their 6-mile race well ahead of the runners in the relay race. Chris Allgyer captained one relay team and Art Moore captained the other. Ralph Witt ran the last leg for the Allgyer team and Art Moore ran the last leg of the Moore team. Since they ran in opposite directions, they had little knowledge of where they stood, whether they were ahead or behind.

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oor Ralph was struggling to cross that great finish line.

Partiers waited at the race’s finish line, with Jim Carter on horseback to declare the winner. Ralph Witt came into view first; however, we could see farther down the road in his direction than we could see in Art Moore’s direction. A cheer went up for Ralph (He was probably the underdog.). Poor Ralph was struggling to cross that great finish line. Suddenly, Art appeared around the curve from the opposite direction. Clearly, Ralph was a good twenty yards ahead and looked to be the sure winner. When Art could see the race unfolding with Ralph in the lead, he mustered his last dram of energy and burst into a sprint that brought him in a leaning dive across the line half a stride ahead of Ralph. He had won, but he paid a price. Collapsing on the bank of the Gottschalk’s front yard, he lay gasping for breath. His wife Lucy checked on him and assured us he would be all right. The parties had other good features. Mike Abbot designed a tee shirt for each marathon and brought a silk screen press to the party. Folks had to supply their own blank shirts and Mike printed them off free of charge. Gary Rubin, a ceramics student, made trophies for the winners, again free of charge. Of course, we had a bluegrass band or two. A key to the success of both marathons was my command decision that no food or drink would be served until the race was over. Tough call keeping 60 or 70 people thirsty and hungry for 2-3 hours. But, then, when we threw a whole mess of those cheap Piggly Wiggly hot dogs on the grill, folks went after them like they were freshly cut T-bones. And, the thoroughly chilled keg drew a big, enthusiastic line when it was finally tapped. 60


So, how is all this relevant to the history? Two reasons come to mind. First, there wasn’t much to do in the greater Big Stone Gap area. You had to make your own fun, and I think a bunch of us got pretty good at that. Second, the marathons were always open to everyone. There was no “them/us” business going on. It was real simple; it was real good. Years later, when Art Moore moved away, he left the GCNM trophy to Chris Allgyer with the words “It should stay here.” The marathon cup was cracked and the base broken off. Chris repaired it and has kept it in his office at MECC since. – Kurt Gottschalk, Jim Smith, and Chris Allgyer contributed to this story. 1976 was a challenging year for the VCCS. The State Board phased out eleven programs in twelve colleges across the system. The changes affected MECC’s programs as the construction program discontinued. Support continued for the crafts program, although ceramics classes were basically the program. Enrollments had begun to decline in some special-interest programs; however, all eighteen associate degree programs continued. The drafting and design program remained in good standing with a new interest from women in drafting. Four women enrolled that year, seeking new avenues for employment. 1976 was also a year of change for a prominent MECC person. Mr. Ben Wheless was ordained to the Sacred Order of Episcopal Deacons in June. Ben continued in his position as chair of the Arts and Sciences Division of the college. MECC graduated 83 students that June. Richard Gardner, Division Superintendent of Norton City Schools, addressed the graduates, including three college secretaries, Ada Vandeventer, Joyce Witt, and Shirley Wells. Mr. Gardner told the students to “Put away the evils of the nation today and look to work toward a brighter future.” (MECC News, 1976) As evident in Mr. Gardner’s comments, the nation was facing trying times. The nation was slowly recovering from the oil crisis of 1973. Toni Collier, SGA President, also spoke to the graduates. In another development of note, the Veterans’ Administration audited MECC and found no violations.

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Jim Carter - Dean of Instruction — James Carter (Jim) served as MECC’s Dean of Instruction from December 1971 until June 30, 1976. In a statement before the March 11, 1976 College Board, Dr. Vaughan: . . . expressed his regret that Dr. Carter [was] leaving and his deep appreciation for Dr. Carter’s contributions to the college, for his loyalty and his personal friendship. . . . The motion was made, seconded and passed unanimously by the Board to present Dr. Carter with a resolution of gratitude from the Board. The Board authorized Dr. Vaughan to draft the resolution with the assistance of Mr. King [E. G. King, Board Member]. (Board Minutes) Jim Carter came to the college with little fanfare because there were few people to notice and he left without fanfare amid shifts and changes that diverted public attention from his departure. Jim governed academics with assiduous consideration, as a listener and an advisor. He didn’t seek power selfishly or wield it ruthlessly. Those who knew him remember his calm, unflappable demeanor and his companionship. Jim Carter played on the faculty intramural softball team, the Clowns, with Mike Abbot, Chris Allgyer, Gary Bumgarner, Tom Burke, Jim Durham, Kurt Gottschalk, Art Moore, Glen Moser, Doyle Rasnick, Jim Smith, and Van Rose. He could whack a mean softball liner to left field. He played sports with the same mutuality and fellowship he displayed at work. A little before he left MECC, Jim and his wife opened a restaurant in Big Stone Gap, appropriately called The Pick and Shovel. That restaurant’s name may sum up Jim as a person as well as anything, for it reveals his infusion as a member of the community and his parity with the community, along with his temperate nature as leader and laborer. He also slow-cooked a delectable barbecued brisket and pork shoulder, served on a freshly-baked Kaiser roll. He seemed equally at ease welcoming a lunch crowd to his eatery as he was meeting with college personnel and students to manage class schedules and institutional policies. After Jim left Mountain Empire, little was heard from him again. Some people speculate that he lived for a while on a remote beach in Florida and may have opened an oceanfront diner there. Others say he migrated to New Orleans and can be seen occasionally on Bourbon Street. Following James Carter’s resignation in June 1976, Mr. Thomas R. Burke was named Dean of Instruction. Mr. Burke had been on MECC’s faculty since the college opened as instructor of history. He was enrolled in post-graduate studies seeking his doctorate.

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That fall of 1976, the United States Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA) proposed that mining training and safety be made mandatory for miners. The MESA proposal would require surface and underground miners to take refresher sessions and classes. MESA allowed a forty-five day comment period on the proposal; therefore, no training would begin until the following year. This MESA requirement would have considerable effects on MECC’s curriculum because MECC would take a principal role in mining training. After four years of operation, the college would begin to address educational needs for the mining industry. Also, Mr. Burke reported in the August Board meeting that a MESA grant had provided funds to hire a person for coordinating the retraining of miners and Louis Collier had been hired in that position. Shirley Wells and Joyce Witt earned the coveted rating of Certified Professional Secretary (CPS). They each completed all six sections of the comprehensive examination administered by the Institute for Certifying Secretaries. Richard Myers, instructor of respiratory therapy, and JewellAnn Gottschalk, instructor of English, resigned before fall quarter began to accept positions elsewhere. The best MECC experience for me was my contact with and working with my colleagues and my students. When I started at the college, I was hired as a twelvemonth faculty, and during my first experience, I set up the continuing education program which was as a kid straight out of college. It was very difficult for me because I had to go to other community colleges and talk to continuing ed. directors and find out what their guidelines were and all of that. During that first year, I set up all continuing ed. classes. I paid all salaries; in addition, I took care of all the expenses of the classes. I was responsible for doing all of the news releases to all TV and radio stations and newspapers and things like that. I never wanted to teach. Ever. I would not have it any other way now, because I love it. But my main goal was to be an office manager. That is what I was trained to be. But I guess GOD put me where he wanted me to be.

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never wanted to teach. Ever. But I guess GOD put me where he wanted me to be.

The best thing that ever happened to us is when we got our own building, our own place to be together. To me, that was wonderful. But the hardest thing for me, any faculty member can tell you (that teaches in technology) are the changes in electronics every single year: having to keep up with all of that. And the registration with the student system and the Blackboard that you have to keep learning and learning . . . it never ends. The one character that I remember the most is Roddy Moore because he went to school in New York and he came to Southwest Virginia to teach Virginians about the Appalachian culture. The program was called Appalachian Studies, and in this community it caused quite a ruckus. I also remember the first big snow we had. And Dr. Vaughan would not call school off, but we got here at 8 o’clock and he cancelled school. Now he cancelled it for students, but not for faculty and staff. It 63


was the most horrendous snow storm you ever saw in your whole life. One of the people went off in the ditch, there was a rig over in country boy hill; it was horrible. I was driving the state car and ran it off the road. It was early morning and there was a big van in the back of Holton for unloading things and there were people parked all over the area and the state car was there and the seat was broken on the state car so I couldn’t see because I’m short. You know how short people are in a car. I was trying to drive and couldn’t see, and here came Mr. Giles, Dr. Vaughan, and Gary Burchett and got in the vehicle with me. I was terrified. There I was, trying to get out of that spot with that rig in my way. That was really horrifying. I was trying to watch the rig to keep from hitting it, and I hit Gary Burchett’s Volkswagen, and Gary said, “Ann, don’t worry, it’s got 1000 dings on it” I mean it was nothing major and I said, “ Mr. Giles, would you please try to get this vehicle out of here?” It took him about 15 minutes. It was horrifying. So I dropped them off down at Phillips at the gas station. I looked down and there was no gas in the car, so I had to go to the state garage. I had never been to the state garage, so I passed it. It was not easy to find like it is today. I pulled into this lady’s driveway because I was like “I’m going to run out of gas completely! What am I going to do?” So, she was not home, so I walked about three houses up, and this lady said, “Honey, if you just circle back around this road, you will come right to the state garage.” Well, I started to back out and Tim and Tommy Laster--remember them? That was their mother’s house that I pulled into before. They had this big red golden retriever, and that dog attacked the car. Well, you know how I am about dogs. So I turned my wheel to miss that dog. There was no shoulder beside the road. The car went off and knocked me on a rotten fence post. There was no damage to the car, except that rotten fence post, but that field was full of cows. I had to stand there for three hours until a state policeman came. In the meantime, here came Dr. Vaughan, Gary Burchett and Mr. Giles. Dr. Vaughan said, “Are you sure you have a valid driver’s license?” It absolutely scared me to death! He said, “Oh don’t worry about it, I have totaled three state vehicles.”

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did pray

There were so many things that happened that first quarter. Sometimes it to die. was so horrible I wished I could die. Being in that room, that last room in Holton Hall with no air conditioning and all of those people. I did pray to die. The second year the college was open, we started what was known as “Family College Nights,” which allowed parents to take classes, and their children would come to the library and I would read them stories. It was great, and one little character that I will never forget was a little red-headed boy with the curliest red hair ever imagined. He would always tell you his name was Austin District Policeman. He would never give you anything other than that. One night I was 64


reading Dooley and the Snorksnoot, that book to them, and he said, “Ma’am, do you mind if I read?” I said, “No.” And he could read better than I could. Dr. Carter walked in and I said, “Do you children know who this gentleman is?” and Austin said, “The Snortsnoot!” So that episode I will never forget. Dr. Carter being the Dean of Academics. – Ann Davis In September 1976, John Cotham joined the college as professional librarian and instructor of library science. Mr. Cotham was a native of Dyersburg, Tennessee, and a graduate from the University of Tennessee with a MSLS degree received in 1975. He had previously served as senior library clerk at the University of Tennessee Law Library.

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hat fall classes were punctuated by detonations of dynamite below the college followed by the ground shaking beneath the buildings.

Work on Route 23 reached the entrance to MECC in October. It was an explosive arrival. That fall, classes were punctuated by detonations of dynamite below the college followed by the ground shaking beneath the buildings. The blasts were disturbing, but they were announcements of progress. Easier, faster transportation was coming to Southwest Virginia.

The college expanded off-campus offerings. Along with new classes offered at sites in northern Wise County, the college joined with the minimum-security Camp 18 prison facility near Coeburn to offer classes to inmates in an attempt to rehabilitate them for re-entry into society. With the help of grant funds from Norton’s Catholic Church, MECC enrolled twenty-five students in the first class. The college planned to offer sociology, philosophy, and a GED preparation class in the fall of 1977. Also, MECC’s Continuing Education Division offered a video communications class with the expectations that inexpensive, easily handled “porta-pak” video-cameras would find ready use in education, industry, journalism, and art. This class was a forbearer of the advent of distance education and the use of electronics in coming years. Continuing education also expanded its off-campus classes to area high schools in Norton and Pound to serve the college’s 15,000 squaremile service area more adequately. In another significant development, the college announced the offering of an introduction to law enforcement course through continuing education. This was the beginning of plans to offer a comprehensive police science program leading to a certificate, a diploma, or a degree. Some classes would begin in spring quarter with more courses added to the curriculum as the program gained interest and enrollment. That spring the college continued to offer interest courses during family nights, including classes covering history after WW II, new roles for women in society, metrics, interior decorating, blueprint reading and house plans, and personal finance, along with college transfer and business classes. Spring evening classes began on March 30, 1977. Also, that spring, Governor Mills E. Godwin appointed Mrs. Revonda Williams, Chair of the Division of Engineering and Industrial Technology, to the Mined Land Reclamation Advisory Committee for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mrs. Williams had developed the mining technology program at the college, and the program had received excellent support and wide acclaim. Due to her work and the rapid growth 65


in the mining industry, MECC would change its divisional structure that coming Fall Quarter to reflect greater emphasis on mining. In May the college drama club presented Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in the lecture room of Godwin Hall. The play starred Ralph Witt as George, Jewell-Ann Gottschalk as Martha, Kirby Gardner as Nick, and Kandy Smith as Honey. It played to full audiences on May 20 and 21. That June William Wampler gave the commencement address as 135 students received certificates and degrees. Representative Wampler spoke to graduates about challenges and opportunities facing them in a changing world. MECC had instructors that cared about the future of their students. For example during my second year at MECC my car broke down and my buddy had dropped out to take a job to support his newly acquired wife and upcoming child, leaving me with no way to get to class. I had pre-registered for classes and I had managed to get my books, so I just stayed home and kept on studying. By the second week of classes, I received a call from Art Moore, math professor. He wanted to know why I wasn’t in class. I explained the situation to him and at the same time found out that I was actually a week ahead of the class as far as my home studies were going. Art said he’d take care of it for me and later that night I received a call from a first year electronics student that lived in Jonesville who passed by my house coming to class anyway. Problem solved, thanks to Art. Now that’s what a community college is all about. - Fred Coeburn In June 1977, Dr. George B. Vaughan announced he would leave MECC to become president of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Vaughan stated, “While I have given my best toward assuring that the people of the area had a first-rate community college . . . I feel I am taking with me much more than I have given.” (Vaughan, 1977) In July 1977, MECC’s law enforcement curriculum was approved as a three-quarter certificate program. MECC had begun offering classes toward a certificate in law enforcement during the previous Winter Quarter of 1977. Mr. John Riley of Pound taught Introduction to Law Enforcement on campus during Wednesday nights. Mr. Riley was a graduate of East Tennessee State University with a B. S. degree in Police Science and a police officer on the Norton City Police force. Enrollment at MECC increased to 1318 FTEs that fall. It was a 17% increase over fall 1976 enrollment. Still, the college was facing scrutiny from the state because annual enrollments had remained in the 1100 to 1300 range for four consecutive years while enrollment across the system had grown more rapidly. Several factors contributed to rising enrollments. They included the effects of baby boomers enrolling in college, the increase of older students (24 – 35 years old) seeking college credits, and the greater percentage of part-time students attending college. The fall of 1977 initiated another change in MECC. The Board began discussions for naming the two buildings. Board consensus was that since Mills E. Godwin was governor at the time the community colleges were established in Virginia and was instrumental in their establishment, Building A (symbolizing the “ground floor” of MECC and the ground work done by Governor 66


Godwin) should be named for him. Since Linwood A. Holton was governor at the time MECC was built, Building B (symbolizing the “finishing touches” of MECC) should be named for him. The renaming of buildings passed the Board’s vote unanimously. (MECC College Board, 1977)

MECC Criminal Justice Program - Then and Now — MECC began offering law enforcement classes in 1977, with one part-time instructor, Mr. John Riley of Norton. Mr. Gray Barnes joined the faculty as the first full-time instructor of law enforcement in September 1979. By 1980, the college was discussing plans to apply for a law enforcement academy. Mr. Barnes served until June 1983. From fall 1983 through June 1984, Ms. Elizabeth Lowe was instructor of law enforcement. The following year (1984 – 85) the college offered a criminal justice certificate and a police science degree under the tutelage of Mr. William “Dub” Osborne. The Associate Degree in Police Science was in place when I started in 1985. Dub Osborne was the faculty member at that time - I believe he had been here 3 years or so before then. The Correctional Services AAS degree and Certificate began around 1990-92. The Correctional Services program was designed with the intent of serving employees of Correctional Institutions statewide. It was made available entirely online around 2000. Both of the AAS degrees were developed with the intent of having an option of courses to transfer to other colleges for a BS/BA degree if a student so desired. Currently, the program has about 1/3 of our graduates transfer. We have had students transfer and complete BS/BA degrees, graduate degrees in Criminal Justice, and a couple of students continue on to law school. Dub and I worked as the two full time faculty members until he retired in 2004. Robert England took Dub’s position at that point. When Robert England accepted the faculty position, he began working on a leadership academy for local law enforcement agencies and expanded to a leadership academy for corrections as well. We entered into a joint certificate with the Environmental Science program to offer a certificate in Wildlife Enforcement for students who are interested in careers in Fish and Game/Wildlife enforcement officers in 2005/2006. – Cynthia Ringley

Leadership Change — After more than five years as President of Mountain Empire Community College, Dr. George B. Vaughan resigned effective August 12, 1977, to begin his new position as President of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia. At MECC’s College Board meeting of August 11, 1977, Mr. Gene Dishner announced that VCCS Chancellor Dana Hamel would meet with the Board on either August 16 or 17 to discuss the procedure for selecting a new president. Dr. Vaughan expressed his deep appreciation for the opportunity of serving as President of MECC 67


and for the Board’s support. Mr. Gene Dishner explained that Chancellor Dana Hamel usually served as acting president at colleges with a vacancy at the president’s post. After talking with Dr. Hamel, however, Mr. Dishner recommended that Mr. Thomas Burke be appointed acting president until a new president could be employed. The Board approved Mr. Burke as acting president unanimously. (MECC College Board, 1977) At that same meeting, Mr. Tom Burke announced that Ms. Bonnie Elosser had resigned her position as Dean of Student Services to take a position with Clinch Valley College of Wise, Virginia. Mr. Kurt Gottschalk assumed the position of Acting Dean of Student Services for MECC. Also, at this meeting the organizational structure of the college’s instructional divisions was changed to reflect the recent growth in the mining curriculum. The restructuring resulted in three divisions: Humanities and Social Sciences; Business, Math and Natural Sciences; and Engineering and Industrial Technology. At the September Board meeting, an ad hoc Presidential Selection Committee made up of a representative from each of the college’s political subdivisions began its search for MECC’s next president. The Board chair served as ex-officio member of this subcommittee. Mr. William Clements had met with Chancellor Hamel on September 1, and Clements reported that eight applicants had been screened by the VCCS and were eligible for the position. Also, during this meeting, Mr. Burke announced that Mr. William Thomas had filled the position of Counselor and Director of Cooperative Education, Mr. Mike Harness had resigned as Coordinator of Financial Aid and Student Activities, and Mrs. Carolyn Hamilton Reynolds who was a native of the area had accepted appointment as instructor of developmental English. (Burke, 1977) In October, Mr. Tom Burke received Executive of the Year Award for the Mountain Empire Chapter of the National Secretaries Association. While I was interim president and Gene Dishner was Chairman of MECC’s Board, the town water lines were so old and broken that Big Stone Gap lost pressure and had no water. Those lines must have been a hundred years old in 1977. MECC got water from a tower on top of Country Boy Hill, and we had plenty of water, so the town had to tap into our line. After the town’s usage we had only a backflow. That was too much drainage and I guess the tank just ran out of water. Chancellor Dana Hamel came down from Richmond and said, “Don’t make waves. We’ll get someone here to fix it.” But I was told that, if MECC needed water, I might have to see that the college got it or we would have to close until the town water was fixed. The following morning headlines in the Kingsport Times-News read: “Burke to Shut off Big Stone Water.” – Tom Burke At the December 5, 1977, College Board meeting, Mr. Clements reviewed the eight candidates interested in the position of president. The Selection Committee had interviewed two finalists. After discussion, the Board unanimously recommended that Dr. Victor B. Ficker be hired as the college’s second president. Dr. Ficker had served previously as Dean of the College at Paul D. Camp Community College. His credentials were quite satisfactory. 68


At this December 5 meeting, Mr. Burke announced that Ms. Revonda Williams had resigned her position as Division Chairman of Engineering and Industrial Technology and that Mr. Art Moore had accepted the role of acting chairman of the mining program. (Burke, MECC College Board Meeting, 1977)

College Children’s Christmas Series — In December 1977, the college’s Learning Resources Center presented its fifth Annual Christmas Cartoon Series with over 1,600 children from area schools and preschool programs attending the four-day event. The program had begun in the college’s second year. In the fall of 1973, Learning Resources personnel came up with an idea for serving the community by bringing area school children to campus to enjoy Christmas festivities, including refreshments, a cartoon series, and Santa Claus. Mel Bullock, Georgia Sumpter, Mary Ann Sydnor, Tom Ferrarro, Ann Davis, and Diana Fig set up the program. Later, Suzanne Hubbard produced the artwork and sketched ads announcing the schedules to local school districts.

I

told him that as a child, I had never seen Santa Claus.

One day I was talking with Mr. Bullock; and I told him that as a child, I had never seen Santa Claus. I recommended that we start a Christmas program for children with popcorn and drinks (I popped most of the corn), Christmas cartoons, and a chance to talk with Santa. The number of children increased every year; and at the end, there were close to 1,700 children. I do not know why it ended. – Ann Davis

Over 300 children attended in 1973. The college had the popcorn machine it has today. Ann Davis popped corn and Georgia Sumpter, Diana Fig, and Susanne Hubbard served soft drinks in cups. The kids arrived in busloads from surrounding schools, beginning at 9 a.m. and often continuing until two or three in the afternoon. College students, staff, administrators, and faculty dressed in the Santa suit provided by Mr. Bullock in Learning Resources and played Santa Claus to the long lines of children. I played Santa during the seventies. It was a daunting escapade full of challenge and long, sweaty hours of work and responsibility, yet it was one of the most rewarding of the many experiences I had at MECC. I always had eight a.m. classes, which ruled out my being the first Santa of the day. Usually, I’d sign on for the 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. crowd. I’d report to Learning Resources offices across from the elevator on the second floor of Godwin Hall to get dressed in the Santa suit of pants, coat and black belt and Santa’s hair and his full, curly beard. By that hour, two or three other men had played Santa, and the outfit was wringing wet with sweat. I mean, the clothes were soaked—AND the beard was drenched with saliva! Nevertheless, Santa had to meet with the hourly march of children waiting to climb on his lap and share their Christmas wishes. All those children and only one Santa! So I donned the suit and the sodden beard and bolstered my tolerance for dampness and odor and took my place in the library next to the holiday tree. Some kids couldn’t wait 69


to hop on my knee and recite their lists of Christmas presents; others were afraid and had to be coaxed to talk to Santa. But there is one little boy I will never forget. He came with a group of “challenged” children from a kindergarten in Lee County, and he climbed onto my lap and hugged me and said “I love you, Santa!” He had the largest brown eyes possible for such a small round face, and he kept hugging me and repeating, “I love you, Santa.” He never asked, not for anything. He just repeated “I love you, Santa,” every time he looked up into my face. That was a grand Christmas reward for my small sacrifices of enduring the Santa suit and beard. That kid made Christmas for me that year. – Van Rose The Christmas cartoon series continued after Robb Hall (named for Governor Charles Robb) was completed and occupied in 1989. Learning Resources moved from Godwin Hall to the new building and the children attended the Christmas festival for several more years. Cutbacks in public school budgets and greater concerns in leaving school campuses, however, resulted in local school districts limiting student field trips to once each academic year. With that choice, fewer and fewer children came for the popular series and Learning Resources personnel decided to discontinue presentations. Costs trumped Christmas cheer and tradition. At the last College Board meeting in December 1977, Gene Dishner asked to be released from his duties as Board Chairman and he was replaced by Mr. William Clements. Mr. Dishner had served the college long and well and will be remembered as one of the founding leaders of its advisory board.

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Dr. Victor B. Ficker Dr. Victor B. Ficker assumed the position as the second President of MECC in January 1978. During his tenure, the college enrollment increased dramatically. Head-count enrollment in 1977 had been 1318. That number rose to 1915 in 1978 and to 2334 in 1979. Within those two years student enrollment jumped by 77 percent. Full-time enrollment (FTEs) rose from 633 to 790 in that biennium, an increase of 24 percent. Dr. Victor’s goals were to serve as many people as possible and to assure that the college continued to reach out into the community as a resource and an avenue to a better future. When I came to Mountain Empire Community College for an interview, the mountains kind of got higher and higher and the roads seemed to get smaller and smaller. There is that sense when you pull out of Kingsport around Abingdon coming this way. I remember that very distinctly. And yet, the next morning when I got up for the interview, the sun was shining and it was very bright out and the haze coming off the mountains and it was beautiful to see. And that first image kind of vanished, and we got on with the scenery about the college and the opportunities of it. At the time, my first perception of the college was I really questioned whether it was going to survive or not because of the enrollment was so small and there was a real concern at that time for efficiencies, as there always is in government. And I really worried and thought about what was going to be the future of the college.

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y first perception of the college was I really questioned whether it was going to survive.

I came the first of January, and it snowed, and the college closed, and I came about the 15th, and it snowed, and the college closed. I came again on February 1 and the college was closed. By that time, I was beginning to wonder if the school would ever be open. When my family arrived in February, we were snowed in at home with no cable TV. The trip to get my family to Big Stone had seemed so long that my son John wanted to know if we were still in Virginia. The big questions I faced were selling the college and making people aware of the opportunities available at MECC. That was the main problem we worked to improve. After a while we experienced major enrollment increases. We realized we would have to build more facilities and parking lots. I also remember lots of involvement with different groups in the community. At that time, getting from one place to the other was often a major task from a geographical standpoint. As far as the changes I made while I was President of Mountain Empire Community College, I felt I had to emphasize that the college is about only one thing – serving people. The task was to convince people that we cared about them, and that was easy enough in Southwest Virginia, because 71


people cared back. During my tenure, we took classes to Dungannon, St. Charles, Clintwood, Pound, and anyplace that would have us. We worked hard to establish a personal touch with the people we were trying to help. Recently, Sue Ella Boatright-Wells, Director of Continuing and Distance Education, was telling me about Distance Education. My reaction to that was you better watch out or the students will distance themselves from the college too. I was surrounded by people who cared about what MECC could be. Thanks to Dr. Bobby Sandel the college is one of the premier colleges in Virginia. I think you want your legacy to be that things you started are carried forward after you leave. The community college should lead the community and be a catalyst for change. The president serves in this role. Community colleges are different in many ways and the same in many ways. In Southwest Virginia coal was the industry of focus and in Alabama the industry of focus was steel. Access what the needs of the community are and meet those needs. Have programs that make jobs and opportunities available, and never stop trying. Lots of people were without work and opportunity when I came to MECC, and you never stop trying to create new opportunities and jobs for the people you serve. At MECC it was the Tri-College Nursing Program and the Mining Program. My fondest memories of MECC will always be graduations. Graduation represents people from all walks of life (young, old, middle aged) achieving their goals. I liked to see them crossing the stage – people who wouldn’t have had an opportunity or chance without MECC. It’s also been nice to have people still thank me for things I did while I was president. The memories that matter are the people you remember. The memories of 10 years at Mountain Empire are really a series of brief flashbacks that will remain with me forever. I will try to recall a few of these with apologies to some friends that are not mentioned but not forgotten. I recall clearly the snow that never seemed to end that first winter. Shirley Wells helped in so many ways. She really deserved the pay during the early days. I remember our visit to the Sisters Charles in a second-story loft and my first funeral in the mountains when the preacher was convinced I needed saving. My first visit with Sister Maria in Dungannon that began a series of opportunities she made possible is a vivid memory that still remains. I remember Ron Flanary calling to ask if I would entertain a visiting group from Indonesia for an afternoon. I agreed. He didn’t tell me they spoke no English. . . I recall watching my children grow up and missing too much of it because I was in the Charlotte airport or the John Marshall Hotel. It is easy to remember Orby Cantrell, John Buchanan and Ford Quillen and their help in making things possible for our students. The look on John Dalton’s face at the portrait unveiling was stunning. 72


I remember board members who gave freely of their time and advice because they loved the college so much. Bill Clements, Bill Kanto, Harold Armsey, Charles Morris, Ed Hutchinson, Imogene Sturgill, Mike Quillen and Ed Helms were such friends. I remember excellence in teaching: the gentleness of Carolyn Reynolds, the intellectualism of Bill Carter, the concern of Jim Durham, the relief that Van Rose felt when he found out my daughter Ellen could write, the dedication of Carolyn Rogers and so many more. I remember the constant smile of Martha Rhoton, the love and concern of Glenda Wilson, the steady support of Carolyn Helms, the compassion of Janet Lester, the unending ingenuity of Perry Carroll, the friendship of Everett Sadler. I remember our office parties with lemon supreme. I remember lunches that I believe still affect my cholesterol. Oh, so clearly I remember watching the parking lots fill up with students who deserve what Mountain Empire offers and so much more. The goodness, kindness and the essential decency of the people will remain forever. – Victor Ficker Dr. Ficker is the force that got the ball rolling for transforming our college from the original fledgling one-and-a-half buildings into the showplace for higher education in Southwest Virginia that it has become today. – Martha Rhoton

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During 1978, the college renewed efforts to build a fine arts option under the university parallel associate in arts degree, offering classes in pottery, drawing, design, and art history. Computer technology gained interest and new personnel arrived. Mr. Gary Jessee joined the faculty as a math and data processing teacher. The fact that he began as an instructor in two areas signified the transition from traditional academic fields to a more specialized and technical emphasis. It also increased efforts toward mining retraining. In May President Ficker and a group of instructors (Tom Burke, Art Moore, Gary Bumgarner, Louis Collier, John Cotham, Brent Joyce, Shuler Ringley, and Van Rose) toured the Holton Mine facilities of Westmoreland Coal Company. The tour was conducted by Johnny Gilly, shift supervisor. I came here in 1978 and started teaching data processing courses, and there was no equipment. No money for buying equipment. I was hired as a split position, math and data processing. I think the position was actually advertised the other way around—data processing primary and math secondary; and they couldn’t get anybody and they advertised the other way around. It was supposed to be primarily math, but the data processing kind of took over. I started out teaching just a general principles course. That was back in the days when no colleges really offered degrees in that area, so there was nobody that had a degree in that area. I’d had a few courses, and so that made me the “so-called expert.” I was far from an expert. I ended up taking a lot of courses myself in those early years trying to get up to par in that area. And I started out teaching just a general principles course, and that grew into a second course in programming in the Basic language, and then we added programming in COBOL language, and added systems analysis; it just kept growing and growing. I taught FORTRAN for the engineering people. For a while that overshadowed the math. We used an old teletype machine and placed a phone receiver on it to connect to a computer at Virginia Western with an acoustic coupler, which cost about $200. The teletype machine was in the room across from the restrooms in Godwin—G 150 back then. We used the old keypunch machine that was put in the closet in G 150, which is G 146 now. I had the hardest time getting the college to spend $200 for computer equipment; they thought spending $200 for computers was totally outlandish. And now we’ve got all these computers, each one $1,000 or so, all over campus and a whole staff of people to maintain them. The college has changed all the room numbers now, and I can’t remember what’s new and what’s old. Godwin 150 was actually designed as a computer room. My office ended up in the closet. We finally got the acoustic coupler. We had to use the keypunch machine they used for the college’s records. The “music system,” came next. Finally we had a state-wide system. We got a bunch of terminals. It took ten terminals to go with the “music system.” The actual computer was at Virginia Western. 74


Primarily business technology used the “music system,” but it wasn’t exclusively ours. That was another big battle. Some people wanted to have all the system in a separate lab. I wanted to have lab computers and seats for a classroom in the same room, so we went back and forth on that for a long time. We finally put computer stations around the wall in 146 with seats in the middle, so I could hold classes in there and work with the computers and vice versa. That was the next step. That system became our instructional system. I taught principles of data processing, but at first we didn’t have enough computers to include hands-on activities because we didn’t have anything to put our hands on! After we began our first programming course, we hooked the acoustic coupler to the teletype machine. The teletype machine had paper ribbon, so they would actually punch the program up on that paper ribbon, and then we would call up the computer in Roanoke and run that ribbon through so they didn’t take forever on-line to get all that stuff entered. We moved to Holton Hall and began to install real computers. Carol Noonkester came and I finally got some relief. It really got to be more than I could do. I was really doing what Terri Lane, Rick Campbell, and Tim Bartley do now. I did all three jobs. Of course, we were on a much smaller scale then. I really needed some help. Carol was very welcome help. She took over teaching some of the classes and a few other things. Around 1987 Rick Campbell came and took over instruction of computer processing, and I moved to math. Afterwards, as class enrollments increased, Fran Chadwell came and then Terri Lane. I became a Jack of all Trades. I taught at Camp 18 and I taught Job Corps classes.

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ne thing that I’ve been kind of proud of is that over all those years, those programs I set up are still pretty much the same.

One thing that I’ve been kind of proud of is that over all those years, those programs I set up are still pretty much the same. It’s still the same skeleton. A few things have been hung on it, but it’s still the same basic thing that I started back there at the beginning-it’s had that longevity. The data processing certificate was on its own, and the specialization was under the management program. In those early years, things in the computer world were changing so fast, it was hard to know what to teach, so I tried to teach pretty much the basic principles rather than trying to emphasize one particular program or machine because technology was changing so fast. If I were teaching computer technology now, I would do it differently because now we’d all have the same idea about what a computer is, what a spread sheet is, what a word processing package is; now everybody pretty much has the same idea. But back in those days, not even the computer manufacturers had the same ideas, and so you really didn’t know what was coming down the pike next, and that made it really hard as far as doing as much hands-on stuff as you would have liked to have done. So, I tried not to get overburdened with that and tried to stick to the basic principles that were going to hold, no matter what changes they made. And I think 75


a lot of the students probably wanted to do more of the hands-on stuff, but I knew a lot of the stuff they wanted to do would be obsolete by the time they graduated, so I didn’t see spending a whole lot of time doing it. When I first came here, the administration had not bought into the idea that we were going to need computers. It was like computers were some kind of novelty item. – Gary Jessee The college held its fifth graduation on June 15 for 105 graduates. Mr. Carl E. Bain of Richmond, Virginia, and Chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges, delivered the commencement address. George Vaughan returned from Piedmont Community College to receive special recognition as the college’s founding president. In an effort to gain enrollment, MECC held its first open house the summer of ’78. Everett Sadler joined the college as Dean of Financial Services on July 1, coming from Paul D. Camp Community College where he had served as Division Chairman of the Business, Social and Communications Services Department. Mr. Don McCollum began duties as the new Director of Student Services on August 1. He arrived from Thomas Nelson Community College where he served in a similar post. The college continued to expand its class offerings that fall. Mr. William Clements was re-elected Board Chairman and Ms. Grace Davis was elected Vice Chairman. Dr. Victor B. Ficker received Executive of the Year Award for the Mountain Empire Chapter of the National Secretaries Association in October. Former executive of the year Mr. Tom Burke spoke at the awards ceremony and also presented musical entertainment. Route 23 was completed with a new entrance to the college and a road sign at the entrance that read “Monntain Empire Community College.” Even with the misspelling, a record number of students found their way up the hill to campus that fall quarter. Challenges were different in the beginning than they are now. There were so many classroom challenges in the early years with funny episodes. I taught on the buses and that was a challenge. When I taught on the buses they would park them and they were used as mobile classrooms; it was no longer a learning-in-transit situation. It was difficult to do and as short as I was I couldn’t stand up. You had to take everything with you so you packed everything on the bus; the climate on the bus was never right – very hot or very cold and it was not ideal; but we did the best we could. The first year I came to MECC the college was doing a SACS self study and I was totally immersed in SACS and in how an institution should operate. I got a real education early on and I really got to teach across the curriculum. When I was hired I always taught the lowest level of developmental English through upper level 76


classes. I taught across the spectrum and taught the same students at all levels including British literature. It was good for me intellectually that I was trained to teach in that way and it was an enjoyable and ideal situation. This might not have happened for me at another community college or a bigger four-year institution. The community college uses people creatively because we have to. I love to teach but I like being a division dean. I still enjoy the contact with students at the division dean level. – Carolyn Reynolds

The Day Liz Taylor (and Husband) Came to Big Stone Gap — Yes, Liz Taylor (and John Warner) did visit Big Stone Gap. They never came to MECC, though. They attended a gathering at Fraley’s Coach House at the bottom of Country Boy Hill. And, yes, Liz did choke on a chicken bone, just as it says in Adriana Trigiani’s novel, Big Stone Gap. (Anyone who saw Liz chew on a chicken leg in the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? wasn’t surprised.) It was spring of 1978. John Warner began his campaign for U. S. Senator of Virginia. The election was a few months away, the first Tuesday in November. Liz and John swept through Southwest Virginia on a campaign tour that would win Warner the title of “Mr. Liz Taylor.” (He also won the election and became Senator John Warner in January 1979.) The couple did stop in Abingdon for a news conference and a photo op. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see Liz Taylor up close and personally, Jewell Ann Gottschalk and I drove to Abingdon for the meeting. Jewel Ann was my office mate from 1973 until she left in June 1978. Sure enough, around 11 that morning, with a crowd packed into the conference room, Liz entered with John in tow. Warner made a few opening political remarks before getting to the reason everybody had come. He said something to the effect that we all knew Liz had some amazing talents, those being her ability to portray almost any character. To demonstrate, Liz launched into mimicry of a Southwest Virginia dialect for about five minutes. Everybody listened politely and applauded afterwards. I don’t think anybody was offended by Liz’s caricature of a mountain gossip. If anyone was, nothing came of it. Political correctness wasn’t so important back then, not even in politicians. Jewell Ann and I took a few photos of Liz during her appearance. I had some negatives made into slides, which I showed to my classes over the years just to prove that Liz had been in the area and I had seen her perform. Unfortunately, when I retired, I dumped those slides along with many other items I knew I would regret throwing away sometime later. – Van Rose 77


1979 In 1979 the college exercised greater efforts to serve the community and to increase enrollments. Dr. Victor B. Ficker announced in February that the key to the community college concept was the community itself and that faculty and staff at the college should keep in mind that the student is the reason they have a job. (News, A Community College is to Serve, Says new President Ficker, 1979) As a part of the planned service, MECC offered job placement to students and graduates through its Cooperative Education and Job Placement Office. Mr. Rich Beaudry came to MECC as the director of job placement. The college also offered several specialized, one-quarter classes that spring quarter, including classes for children, human relations, yoga, cave exploration, marriage and family, firearms safety, and separation and divorce. Two MECC faculty members received notoriety for their literary and photographic achievements. Mr. Walt Holden published two textbooks through the Cambridge Book Company, Language Patterns and Writing Patterns, and Mr. Gerry Laney presented an exhibit of photographs taken while he and his wife Wendy traveled in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, India, and England. Mr. Laney’s exhibit was a part of MECC’s library program. Increasing its efforts toward serving students and industry, MECC expanded its offering in mining technology under the direction of Mr. Randy Castle. Also, the college began enrolling students in its new College Accelerated Program—Secretarial (CAPS). The first person to enroll in CAPS was Miss Carol Page of Gate City. In June the college held its sixth graduation commencement. Mr. E. B. Leisenring, Jr., Chairman of the Board of Westmoreland Coal Company and of Penn Virginia Corporation, delivered the commencement address to approximately 105 graduates. He spoke of the “best of times” for the coal mining industry during 1974 – 1978 and the loss of hundreds of jobs as miners were laid off during 1978 and into the first six months of 1979. Mr. Leisenring pointed toward better times to come in the mining industry. Seven nursing students received their nursing pins as the first graduates from the nursing program at MECC. In an ironic twist, an Associated Press story reported that some of Virginia’s community colleges faced the possibility of closing due to dwindling enrollments. By July local newspapers were reporting that the rumors were unfounded. The State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) had looked at declining enrollments among community college. Dr. Gordon Davies, Director of SCHEV, had sent a memorandum to President Ficker, indicating that as many as 10,000 fewer high school graduates in Virginia might affect college enrollments adversely. Dr. Ficker assured those concerned, however, that “Our school was never even mentioned” [as a candidate to be closed]. (News, MECC Closing Rumors Said Unfounded, 1979) These reports appear ironic because during August of 1979 MECC reported the greatest increase in numbers of students attending of any Virginia community college. There was a 71 percent increase in MECC’s full-time-enrollment totals. Additionally, summer enrollment was up from 322 students in 1978 to 1,070 students recorded by August 1979. 78


George Edwards and Mrs. Linda Kilgore joined MECC as the two new assistants to the Director of Continuing Education (Mrs. Trish Collier) in August. A Pennington Gap resident, Mr. Edwards received a bachelor’s degree from Berea College and a master’s degree in Business Administration and Economics from Murray State University in Kentucky. Mrs. Kilgore, who lived in Gate City, received a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics and a master’s degree in Library Services to Schools from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. She was enrolled in the doctoral program at ETSU in Education Supervision. I served as Assistant Director of Continuing Education and later as Director of Continuing Education at Mountain Empire Community College from 1979-1984. The Continuing Education division served approximately 1,000 students each quarter both in on-campus and off-campus offerings. It seemed at the time that we were constantly recruiting students, promoting course offerings, setting up classes, searching for faculty, selling books, and registering students. We had some unforgettable experiences and we occasionally talked about writing a book about the unusual situations we encountered. In recruitment efforts, we scheduled community “forums” throughout the region, generally in July and August. We met in schools, public libraries, community centers, health clinics and anywhere else we could gain access. We took a team of employees to meet any potential students to advise them and in some cases to register them on the spot. On a few occasions, we had twenty or more interested parties to show up but the general rule is that the forum included only the “four” employees from the college. At a housing project in Big Stone Gap, we were on a visit, and I spotted a lady walking by the community room. Hoping to get at least one prospect from the visit, I said to her, “How would you like to go to College?” Perry Carroll whispered to me that this might not be the best approach since she had recently been academically suspended from the college.” On another visit to Keokee for a meeting with some community people, I excused myself to go to the restroom. It was summer so the maintenance personnel were painting and sprucing up the building. The signs designating the men’s and ladies’ rooms had been removed so I had a choice to make. I knew I had selected the correct room because it contained urinals. Within a short time, I heard the door open and, as I looked toward the door, I observed one of the female officials I had just been meeting with in one of the classrooms. Needless to say, we were both 79


surprised and embarrassed and I knew I was in serious trouble when I went back to the meeting; all the ladies were smiling. When I left the college in 1984, I was presented with a “recruitment award.” We were in Coeburn on a visit and we observed a sign on the front lawn of a house that said “Not for Rent.” We offered such an array of courses we tried to promote and fill with students that we thought it might be easier to advertise that MECC was “not offering the following classes this quarter. All others are available.” We also observed the “3-Way Motel” in Coeburn and often wondered how it got its name. We offered classes for many years in Dungannon at the Depot and one night we encountered a student who had no transportation to get back home. She asked us if we would drop her off at her house and I inquired, “Now where do you live?” Another student said, “She lives up there at the wide spot in the road.” I was amused at the directions she gave, but Sue Ella, a native of the area, knew right where it was. We taught lots of nursing assistant courses throughout the region and I recall loading mattresses in our trunks to take to the different sites so the students could learn to make beds. We hauled books from the bookstore to sell to the students and one of my earliest memories was registering students and selling books for a nursing assistant course in a small community. I expected the students to pay by check but I was shocked to have the majority pay in cash. I left there with a manila envelope full of cash—more than I had ever handled. I learned later that many of the citizens in that community had been awarded financial aid to take the class and most did not have bank accounts—so they always dealt with cash and money order transactions. – George Edwards Harvey Gray Barnes joined MECC’s faculty as Assistant Professor of Law Enforcement in September. Mr. Barnes had been a weapons sergeant with the U. S. Army Airborne Command and a patrol officer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and an officer with the Hampton, Virginia, Division of Police. He held a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminology from St. Leo College and a Master of Arts Degree in Education from George Washington University. Dr. Victor B. Ficker was elected President of the Wise County Chamber of Commerce in September. Also, Mrs. Louise Brown became confidential secretary to the college president, moving from her previous position as secretary for the Division of Business Technology. The college scheduled its Home Crafts Day in mid-October in 1979. The October season of changing leaves in the mountains became a traditional date for the event that continues into 2010. Enrollment increased by 23 percent during the Fall Quarter 1979 over the previous fall quarter. MECC had the second highest enrollment jump of any Virginia community college except Virginia Highlands, which recorded a 34 percent increase. Dr. Richard J. Ernst, Interim Chancellor, said, “I am especially enthusiastic about those colleges that experienced tremendous improvements over the fall of 1978.” (Editor, 1979) 80


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The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reaffirmed MECC’s accreditation at its annual meeting December 12 in Atlanta, Georgia. Reaffirmation was evidence of the high standards of the academic programs at the college. (News, MECC Accreditation Reaffirmed, 1979) Reaffirmation once again strengthened MECC’s university parallel transfer credentials so that graduates from associate degree programs faced no obstacles transferring to other institutions of higher education such as Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and East Tennessee State University. These claims were supported in the numbers of MECC graduates who successfully transferred to those universities.

he Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reaffirmed MECC’s accreditation at its annual meeting December 12 in Atlanta, Georgia.

That December marked another change at MECC. Dean of Instruction Thomas Burke tendered his resignation from the college effective January 1, 1980. Mr. Burke left to assume a new position as Vice-President of Instruction at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Mr. Burke’s departure culminated the era of change during the last year of the seventies decade. The 70s decade closed on several high notes: enrollments continued to rise; the college increased its faculty and staff to meet the demands of greater numbers, hiring Mr. Russell Minton, Mr. Gary Kiser, and Mrs. Patti Wolfe Cantrell in the Mining and Industrial Technologies Division; the college expanded its program offerings, including more night classes in Scott County; and 2,000 area children visited the campus on December 3 – 6 to talk to Santa at the annual Christmas cartoon festival. MECC looked forward to a new decade of challenges and successes. The first eight years at MECC were a time of discovery, growth, and maturity. It involved adaptation from people coming into the community as well as acceptance from people in the community. It was a frontier era for most, as everyone explored and adjusted. Adjustments were not always smooth. With all of the upheaval and change, discovery, and growth, people formed new friends and created unique activities at work to learn and in their daily lives to entertain themselves and to enjoy. People at the college came together both at work and in the three college-related activities that became traditions during those formative years.

Whatever happened to the BB&B BBQ? — Ask Tom Burke or Gary Bumgarner today and they will tell you they settled on calling the endof-the-year, college-wide picnic the B & B Backyard Barbecue to show it was a joint-effort party. They conceived it, probably one afternoon at the Sunset Inn, as a celebration of another year of success at MECC. After years of the B & B Backyard Barbecue at Bumgarner’s and Burk’s homes, the cookout was held one last time at Mel Bullock’s home in Kingsport. Mel was the most accomplished and famous outdoor chef in the neighborhood. So they could have named it the 81


Burke, Bumgarner & Bullock Backyard Barbeque. Or the Bumgarner, Bullock & Burke Backyard Barbeque. Or . . . ? Therein lay the problem: Who came first? Well, nobody, actually—and everybody. Sarah and Marilyn and Bonnie were the real forces behind the huge production; they organized and hosted the festivities of the cookout and set the date for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, a perfect day with reliably beautiful weather. They oversaw the gathering of foods, utensils, games, and other necessities. Tom and Gary brought in a keg and printed a list of things needed and placed copies of necessary party items in college mailboxes for each attendee to choose to bring. Every employee on campus was invited, and most came. They brought their families. They brought friends. Some brought their dogs. People began to show up as early as 10 a.m. on that last Saturday in May. Tom and Gary lived in the Morgan Legg houses in the bottom next to the south fork of Powell River. Neighbors included Sam Dillon and later Bill Carter and John Cotham. College partiers wore shorts and tee-shirts and brought covered dishes and bags of chips and condiments. The crowd was predominately young and lighthearted and anxious for fellowship and fun with colleagues after a long year of grinding work. Keg rules were: grab a paper cup unless a glass is preferred, in which case you bring your own, everybody serves oneself; if you want nonalcoholic libations, somebody will bring cokes, coffee, or tea.

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olleyball games

They played croquet and threw Frisbees, favorite games of women often became and children (and dogs), and later the men erected volleyball poles and strung the net—borrowed from the college and delivered by very competitive and Carolyn Sumpter. Volleyball games often became very competitive sometimes rowdy. and sometimes rowdy. They all remember that curly-haired English instructor from Michigan who looked like a chubby Columbo (Peter Falk), and who drained his cups a bit too hastily before lunch one year. On every volleyball point, the fellow lost his equilibrium and charged into the net, flailing and stumbling and bringing down the equipment, poles, net and all, in a tangle on the ground. Players had to call a long timeout and lead him to a lounge where he refereed for the rest of the morning. At midday the men set up those old round charcoal grills. Back then charcoals had to be soaked in lighter fluid, lit, and left to burn for twenty to thirty minutes before they were smoldering and ready for cooking. Tom, Gary, and—later—Mel grilled burgers and roasted dogs. Burgers were always freshly ground beef and hot dogs were roasted toasty and plump. You could have buns steamed in tinfoil or grilled over coals. Get your hot foods from the grill, pile your plate with potato salads, baked beans, chips, pickles, relishes, condiments, and grab a beer—well, good god almighty, get on out of here! Partiers relaxed in groups of friends, men, women, and children. They stuffed themselves as only the young and vigorous and appetitive can do. They chatted with laughter and clatter and the drift of moods over time. After lunch, they ran off calories playing a loosely organized game of soccer. Players entered or left the competition for any reason, and teams could have five or eight or ten members without quarrels or penalties. 82


Those celebrations lingered well into the afternoons. Nobody left before 4 p.m., but everybody had cleared out by 5. They said our goodbyes and gathered spouses and families and sauntered across the yard to their cars, tired and yet relieved of a whole year’s worth of clutter and worry. They didn’t know it then, but the B & B Backyard Barbecue was their all-day revival in the sense of renewal of spirit and of self and of commitment to their mission at MECC and to each other—complete with dinner on the grounds and Olympic gamesmanship. At some point, and nobody can quite remember when, the B & B Backyard Barbecue declined. People became involved in obligations, lost interest, moved, grew older, drifted away, got married, or found other activities to follow on Memorial Day weekend. We do know that Mel Bullock moved to Kingsport and hosted one final BB & B Barbecue. Tom and Gary became more affluent as they continued in gainful employment and moved out of the bottom of the Morgan Legg rentals. After those first years of spontaneous partying (Can any bash be better than an unplanned one?), there was that one final burst of carousing that may or may not have been the culmination of end-of-year college festivities. MECC celebrated its last BB & B Backyard Barbecue on Memorial Day 1979.

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The 1980s: Growth and Change . . . and New Directions The decade of the 80s would feature continued growth in enrollment that would require more staffing and—very significantly—the construction of two new buildings. The physical campus and the infrastructure changed dramatically as new structures and greater numbers of people redefined the college. During this time of expansion and change, MECC evolved from the new little college on the hill to an integral member of the region located on a recently completed four-lane highway offering easier access--streamlined for efficiency. A new parking lot helped accommodate the increasing numbers of students and staff. Reorganization reshaped the administrative structure. Old faces moved off and new people arrived to replace them. The decade promised new technology that would change the face of education yet again. Computers were coming. These machines would dictate how businesses operated, including college instruction, data storage and communication. This emerging technology altered course content in numerous programs and classes, therefore, changing instructional methods. Teachers who used computers for instruction needed to learn more about technology in order to teach more effectively. Staff members across campus faced challenges from the new technology in their daily work. All across campus, the punctuated whack-a-tat-tat of IBM Selectric typewriters with those “golfball” elements was replaced by the quieter clickety-click-click of computer keyboards. No more corrective tape. No more proofreading each page before moving on to another. No more blemishes from corrections. No more spelling errors—well, almost. The once highly acclaimed IBM Selectric, hailed as “the beginning of desktop publishing,” became as obsolete as the Hansen “writing ball” (pictured at right), or the classic Underwood. Accompanying technology forever changed the processes of communicating, teaching, learning, and working. More changes affected MECC’s direction and its future. Late into the decade, the college, like a teenager, experienced a spurt in growth. Enrollment shot up annually to new highs; personnel appointments opened and were filled to match needs for more instruction and greater services; new buildings were erected to house more students, new programs, and more offices. Furthermore, like a teenager experiencing rapid growth, MECC faced challenges and decisions that were sometimes difficult and painful and always hopeful of a better future.

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Dalton-Cantrell Hall (1979 – 1984) The vision for a mining technology building emerged during a meeting at the Wise County National Bank (now Sovran Bank) in February 1979. Dr. Ficker, Bill Clements, President of Wise County National Bank, and several other interested members of the community discussed the idea of constructing a new mining technology building on campus. With a total of 32,000 square feet, the facility would double instructional space and enable the college to firmly establish its leadership position in mine training. In late December of 1979, MECC President Victor B. Ficker, House Delegate Orby Cantrell of Pound, State Senator Dr. John Buchanan of Wise, and Executive Director of LENOWISCO Bruce Robinette, accompanied by Mr. Randy Castle, Director of Mining Technology at MECC, and other state politicians, met in Governor John Dalton’s office in Richmond to promote the new facility. At that time, costs of the new building were estimated at $3 to $4 million. (MECC News Release, 1980) After the meeting with Governor John N. Dalton, the college completed a feasibility study, and the General Assembly approved initial funding of $1 million for a mine technology building at the college. The final amount needed for completion of the building was not awarded, however, until after the 1981-82 session of the Virginia General Assembly. In addition to funds acquired through the state, funding was also supplied by the Farmers Home Administration (FHA) and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

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round breaking and construction for the new mining technology building did not begin until the summer of 1982.

Ground breaking and construction for the new mining technology building did not begin until the summer of 1982 because it took almost a year for approval of federal funds from ARC. Architectural drawings depicted a modern two-story building on a grassy knoll north of the two existing buildings. The structure was named the John N. Dalton and Orby L. Cantrell Mining Technology Building to express the college’s gratitude to the two men for their assistance and diligence in helping to secure funds for the new building.  The floor plan showed two stories for classrooms and laboratories using the most modern facilities and up-to-date equipment available. The new building would house environmental science, mine electronics, deep and surface mining, mine rescue, emergency medical care, mapping, and coal preparation classrooms. Students could learn stress testing and welding, electronics and electricity, hydraulics, drafting, and boiler technology. A special feature of the building was a 258-seat auditorium with moveable partitions, allowing it to be used for individual presentations or divided for classroom instruction. The auditorium was also available for community activities. The president’s office, presidential staff offices, assigned faculty offices, and the board room relocated to the building. The ARC Grant, approved in September 1982, supplied funds to equip the Mine Technology Building. The state of Virginia also contributed $600,000 for equipment. 85


Westmoreland Coal Company and Penn Virginia Foundation contributed $50,000 to purchase furniture for the lobby and board room, and to provide video, audio, and projection equipment for the auditorium. In honor of this generous donation, the board room in the new building was named the Westmoreland, Penn Virginia Board Room. In March of 1983, allocated funds for the project were released. Burwill Construction Company of Bristol, Tennessee, submitted the lowest bid and began moving equipment onto the building site on April 11. Excavating for the Dalton-Cantrell Mining Technology Building began immediately. Heavy equipment arrived to prepare the site in May. By August construction crews were erecting walls. In March of 1984, the building was nearing completion. Having an almost completed complex in August, MECC finished preparations for the dedication ceremony which was held on Saturday, August 18, 1984. In his dedicatory speech at the ceremony, Dr. Victor B. Ficker said, “The dream was started in ’79. In 1984, it’s finally going to become a reality.” The ceremony served to honor “two driving forces . . . who persisted when times got tough.” (Crouch M. , 1984) Those driving forces were former Governor John. N. Dalton and the late Orby Cantrell who were instrumental in making that dream a reality. 86


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his is the first building that has ever been named for the Dalton family. It’s a great honor. We really appreciate it.

Governor Dalton and Mrs. Imogene Sturgill, Mr. Cantrell’s daughter, cut the ribbon opening the new facility. Governor Dalton commented that “While serving as governor, many honors come your way. This is the first building that has ever been named for the Dalton family. It’s a great honor. We really appreciate it.” (Crouch M. , 1984)

“Education was one of Daddy’s main priorities,” said Mrs. Sturgill. Because of this high honor and tribute, our family feels his memory always will be recalled. And we will never forget. . . . He would feel highly honored in having his name linked with the esteemed Governor Dalton.” (Crouch M. , 1984) The two honorees unveiled an oil painting of Governor Dalton and Orby Cantrell that now decorates one of the walls of the Westmoreland, Penn Virginia Board Room. One of the biggest difficulties in building the facility was funding. “Nothing comes easy for Southwest Virginia,” said Delegate Ford Quillen, who accepted the new building on behalf of the citizens of Southwest Virginia. Quillen added, “The new facility is dedicated to the coal miners who are the backbone of the region. It will make their work more safe and productive.” (Crouch M. , 1984) “The people of this area need and want this building,” observed Dr. Jeff Hockaday, Chancellor of the VCCS. “While this has been a great College with strong leadership, this building only gives you a greater challenge for the future.” (Crouch M. , 1984)

Governor Dalton and Imogene Sturgill

The building opened as the fall quarter began in September 1984, and students attended classes in the Dalton-Cantrell Mining Technology Building.

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Plans for the new mining technologies building dominated the news releases during January 1980; however, the college moved forward in other endeavors as well. The MECC Omega Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Lambda in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the Women’s Club of Big Stone Gap sponsored a blood drive on Friday, January 25, earmarked for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. There were 120 donors. A Red Cross official said it was “The most cooperative group of donors and helpers we have seen.” Nurses from Lee County Hospital assisted in technical work. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program provided free, close-to-home help at MECC on February 29 and March 1. VITA would continue to offer tax filing services over the years. The new Dean of Instruction, Michael Steven Hensley, arrived in March from Franklin, Virginia, driving through a snow storm to assume his duties at MECC. Mr. Hensley had been a professor of biology at Paul D. Camp Community College in Franklin before arriving at MECC. Between January and March of that year Mr. Benjamin Wheless had served the college as interim dean. MECC was a testing center for the Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) exam on campus on May 2 and 3. The fourth annual John Fox Jr. Festival with the theme “Understanding Our Appalachian Heritage” was held on Wednesday, May 14, 1980. Three featured speakers—Dr. Cratis Williams of Appalachia State University, Jess Carr, author of numerous books about Appalachia, and Dr. Klell Napps, a well-known balladeer of mountain tunes—highlighted the festival activities. Also, poet John Caldwell read from his poetry during the morning presentations. Once again, lunch at the Fox House in Big Stone Gap followed the morning programs. The Rye Cove Dancers performed during the luncheon along with music by Dr. Joe Smiddy, Chancellor of Clinch Valley College. In April of 1980, Mrs. Peggy Rusek assumed duties as the Chairman of the Division of Business Technology. Rusek held a master’s degree in business and had worked at the college for three years as assistant professor of secretarial science before replacing Mr. Earl Kocher, who became director of institutional research.

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n April of 1980, Mrs. Peggy Rusek assumed duties as the Chairman of the Division of Business Technology.

My Personal History With The Community College And Why I Love It So Much. It Is The Realization Of The American Dream For So Many People In Our Area. I was born in Busthead near Baptist Valley (mail route Cedar Bluff) in Tazewell County, Virginia. I am the middle in age of five children – all born within seven years of each other. My father was a farmer and a livestock market owner/operator. I went to elementary school at Baptist Valley but was bused to Richlands, Virginia, for high school. Dad could not afford to have five children in college at other than a state-supported school so I transferred to Bluefield Business College with my brother and we could drive up each day to school and save Dad a lot of money. Besides that, my youngest sister was scheduled to graduate the next year and would 88


have to go to school somewhere (more money needed for Dad). Most of the people I graduated from high school with could not afford to go off to college at that time (1950s). During the period of the 60s, my father was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Tazewell County, Virginia. Every time I came home or he came to visit us, he talked about how they had this vision of placing colleges all across the state so that people like us could all have the advantage of a higher education. He worked diligently in his county, in the state, and with neighboring counties to find the funds to establish the community college in Tazewell County – Southwest Virginia Community College. He served on the committee to find and employ a chancellor for the Virginia Community College System once established. Then he worked closely with Dr. Hamel to set up the SWVCC site. He got funding from the counties to bus students from all over the 3-county area to SWVCC for classes. So even though he was only able to go to school through third grade (a very smart man— self educated), he made it possible for others in the community to be able to pursue higher education goals. He was truly an inspiration. After completing my bachelor’s degree, marrying, and completing my master’s, I taught at Blacksburg High School one year and then I moved to New River Community College to teach. I found my love at last at New River Community College. I loved the students, the teaching there, and everything about it. However, my husband decided to move to Gate City, Virginia, to teach and coach with Harry Fry the next year. So I applied at Mountain Empire Community College and began teaching there in fall of 1973. So when my husband decided to coach at Gate City High School, I applied at Mountain Empire Community College the second year it was open. I worked under all the presidents who have been there since its inception to this date: beginning with Dr. George B. Vaughan, Dr. Victor B. Ficker, Dr. Ruth Mercedes Smith, Dr. Robert H. Sandel, and now Dr. Terrance Suarez. And YES, I believe the community college is the epitome of Dr. Vaughan’s American Dream for all our rural citizens, young and old. I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Dana Hamel on one of his visits to MECC after my father’s death. I purposely went in to tell him that I was so proud of all that he had been able to accomplish with the Virginia Community College System and how I wished that my father could be alive today and witness how successful the venture had proven to be. Dr. Hamel chided me about not believing loved every that my father knew all this and was up there watching. He said that he knew that my father was up there beaming his approval. How little minute of - especially I felt for not having faith in life eternal.

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it the part in the classroom.

What more can I say? I loved every minute of it – especially the part in the classroom. For a few years, I did some special assignments in 89


administrative work but that was not really my cup of tea. I loved working with the student organizations, Phi Beta Lambda, in particular. In fact, when I was at New River Community College I contacted Mountain Empire Community College to help establish a Phi Beta Lambda business student organization at MECC; then my Phi Beta Lambda students at New River actually came down and sponsored the organization and installation of the new chapter of Phi Beta Lambda at MECC. Another outreach program I loved was the Income Tax Assistance Program for Seniors. My students learned so much helping people in the community with their tax preparation. I served temporarily as Business Division Chair and as special services in the Continuing Education Division to establish a Small Business Development Center. That was interesting but not nearly as satisfying or as much fun as teaching in the classroom and having that direct contact with students learning new skills. One of the beautiful plaques which I received from my students in 1996-1997 read, “Thank you for a very special lady who started out as a teacher but became a friend.” Then ten student names are engraved on the plaque. However, the very best part of the whole deal is that both my daughter and my son were able to get their start at MECC. My daughter, Carol, married her boyfriend, Dan, and they had a baby in high school. I thought that there was no hope for the college education that she had always wanted. However, both Dan and Carol applied, got work-study jobs, and completed not only MECC with high honors, but also Radford University with bachelor’s degrees. Then Carol went on to Medical College of Virginia and got her Ph. D. in bio-statistics. Dan teaches and coaches at Goochland right outside of Richmond, Virginia, and Carol is a research scientist at Wythe Laboratories in Richmond. My son, Joey, studied law enforcement at MECC and he is now an Investigation Supervisor for the Attorney General’s Office in the state of Virginia. So, my Dad would have been proud that his grandkids were able to obtain an education close to home to prepare them for better jobs to support themselves and their families. – Peggy Rusek On June 13, 1980, Dr. John C. Buchanan delivered the commencement address to approximately 123 graduates receiving degrees and certificates. Dr. Buchanan was a senator in the Virginia General Assembly. Fifty-six students graduated with honors; the ceremony was held on the parking lot adjacent to Godwin Hall. In July 1980, ten members of the Omega Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Lambda of MECC traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the 29th annual FBLA-PBL National Leadership Conference. They were Ann Davis, advisor, Roger Holbrook, Tammy Olinger, Daretha Mullins, Debbie Carter, Carol Page, Carmen Pendleton, Eileen Roberts, Becky Seay, and Louise Donaldson. Carol Page won sixth place in Accounting I at the 1980 National Leadership Conference. The college expanded its curriculum and class offerings that fall with a new dental assisting program and new classes in radiology, banking (with the American Institute of Banking), food 90


service training, and a greater selection of mine training. The college was now serving 5,300 persons during the year. Dr. Ficker led an effort to revise state funding to make it more flexible in sustaining a wider range of classes offered for training in special skills and/or interests. The first annual fall professional development seminar, “Step Aboard the Flight to Professionalism in the 80s,” sponsored by the Mountain Empire Chapter of the National Secretaries Association (NSA) International and MECC was held on campus on September 5. More than 150 secretaries attended the seminar. MECC participants included Linda Carty, Virginia Holloman, George Edwards, Louise Brown, Nila Jones, Mike Hensley, Peggy Rusek, and Thelma Lockhart. The college welcomed four new board members at its September meeting. Joining the College Board for four-year terms were Mr. Harry W. Meador, Jr., of Big Stone Gap; Mr. William P. Kanto of Norton; Ms. Shirley Slemp, Pennington Gap; and Mr. Michael Quillen, Gate City. Mrs. Deborah Kindle, NSA/FSA sponsor, along with Mrs. Nila Jones, NSA Chair, and MECC NSA/FSA advisor Ann Davis presented MECC scholarship awards to eight secretarial science students in October. The first annual “World Here We Come” Seminar, sponsored by the Business Technology Division, was held on November 25. The purpose of the seminar was to reinforce and enhance training and instruction students received in the business departments of their respective high schools. The seminar, designed to help senior high school business students as they entered the workforce or continued with their education, was an all-day affair. The morning session focused on a discussion of “Making Positive First Impressions.” The luncheon speaker’s address titled “It’s Your Move, George,” presented by an MECC graduate was timely and inspirational. The afternoon included a skit performed by Phi Beta Lambda members and a fashion show. This seminar developed by the Business Technology faculty, which focused on some aspect of the business world, was enjoyed by business teachers and senior business students each fall for several years until public school policies changed and students could no longer attend. The college continued to grow under the leadership of President Ficker. New offerings included classes in counseling instruction, mining workshops, mining safety, and plans for a new police academy. Fall enrollments increased by 25 percent in 1980 over fall of 1979, resulting in a fulltime enrollment of 1,064. Chancellor Jim Hinson of the VCCS noted that MECC’s growth led the system and that it was certainly meaningful to funding. New growth efforts carried into 1981 with additional classes in mining, EMT, intermediate guitar, journalism, religious studies, aerobic exercises, math and English “review,” as well as extensive off-campus and night classes in Scott and Dickenson Counties. For his leadership in enrollment initiatives, President Ficker received praises from the new chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges Thomas T. Byrd and new MECC Board Chairman Howard Quillen. Mr. Gary Rose joined MECC as Financial Aid Officer in May. Previously, Mr. Rose had been Assistant Business Manager at Clinch Valley College in Wise. 91


MECC presented the fifth annual John Fox, Jr. Festival on May 20, 1981. Dr. Robert J. Higgs, Professor of English at ESTU and author of “Voices from the Hills,” was the featured speaker. Balladeer Klell Napps and poet A. L. Mitchell also performed. Music and dancing was provided by Jack Tuttle, Keith Sims, Rita Quillen, and the Rye Cove Cloggers. A luncheon followed at the John Fox House.

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t was a brilliant performance, culminating in his landing in perfect form (arms extended, legs straight, toes pointed) on his stomach perched across his high counter stool.

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One afternoon in the library in 1981 things were completely dead and I was in there talking to John Cotham. John is a brilliant, trained dancer, and on that afternoon, he’d been as still and quiet as he could stand for one day and proceeded to launch into a very beautiful, athletic ballet performance right behind the desk in the library (which was where the GAIN lab is now). It was a brilliant performance, culminating in his landing in perfect form (arms extended, legs straight, toes pointed) on his stomach perched across his high counter stool. I was laughing hysterically when out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement. The library wasn’t empty after all! A man was sitting reading a newspaper and he slowly dropped the paper to see what the commotion was: it was Dr. Ficker! The look on his face was not a good one, but that just made the whole thing funnier! John and I cracked UP. But . . . needless to say, we scurried and got back to work! – Rita Quillen.

At the graduation ceremonies on June 12, 1981, Dr. Gordon K. Davies, Director of the State Council of Higher Education, spoke to approximately 137 graduates. Although rain dampened the celebration, Dr. Davies offered a bright outlook, telling the crowd that “Educated men and women will show the fruits of education by meeting the challenges of the next few decades bravely, imaginatively, and with compassion.” (MECC News Release, 1981) At the commencement exercises, Dr. Victor B. Ficker presented awards to MECC Board members for their outstanding contributions. Those receiving awards were E. G. King of Appalachia, F.C. Bledsoe of Scott County, Ms. Grace Davis of Lee County, and William T. Clements of Norton.

t the graduation ceremonies on June 12, 1981, Dr. Gordon K. Davies, Director of the State Council of Higher Education, spoke to approximately 137 gradutes.

Walter Holden, Assistant Professor of English at MECC, received a fellowship to the Virginia Community College System Institute for a “Teaching of Writing” program held during July 27 through August 28 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Holden had written two workbooks on writing—“Language Patterns” and “Writing Patterns.” His study at the Institute led to MECC offering classes in “Writing across the Curriculum” to area teachers and students, a highly successful and widely recognized project. During the following years, students of MECC and teachers in area schools participated in Mr. Holden’s writing classes. Professor Holden’s expertise received national acclaim. Mrs. Carolyn Helms of Gate City joined MECC’s staff in August as a Financial Aid Counselor 92


under the federally funded Title III Program. Helms held a bachelor’s degree in history from ETSU. Also joining the faculty of MECC were Mrs. Dana Crismond as Assistant Professor of Secretarial Science, Ms. Carolyn Sumpter Cumbee as Director of Student Activities, Mr. Gary Nickles as Mining Instructor, and Ms. Edra Rice as Reading Instructor. Crismond held a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Education from Longwood College and a Master of Science Degree in Business Education from Radford College. Cumbee graduated from Radford College and was working toward the Master of Science Degree from Virginia Tech. Nickles graduated from Marshall University and attended the Mine Health and Safety Academy and Allen Management School. Rice received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Cumberland College and the Master of Arts in Education from Eastern Kentucky University. MECC’s hiring of new faculty reflected the college’s enrollment growth and its increasing demands for more instructors to meet educational needs. I was first hired in 1981—Peggy Rusek was my division chair then. I worked only that one year before I resigned due to the birth of my second son. I was such an idiot because I didn’t even know that I could have taken a leave of absence to stay home for 6 months or so. Peggy, of course, was a real dynamo—serving as division chair while teaching about 3 classes every semester herself! I always found it hard to say “no” to Peggy because she worked as hard as the rest of us and didn’t try to push a lot of her responsibilities onto someone else. I always had a lot of respect for Peggy. Remember the story I told you about Bumgarner and me attending a conference to return to announcements by both of us that I was pregnant and Marilyn was pregnant. Our sons were born almost 2 months to the day apart—Mark in April and Derek (my son) in June. The opinion in our division was “You’d better not travel with Gary unless you’re prepared to come back pregnant!”

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ou’d better not travel with Gary unless you’re prepared to come back pregnant!

I was off for 3-4 years during which I taught as an adjunct for MECC. In fact, the last year or two before I was re-hired, I was deemed a “full-time adjunct” because I taught so many classes (15-20 credits each semester). Randy Castle was my division chair when I was rehired (1986 I think?) and his comment was that I had to become full-time in order to decrease my load to a reasonable amount! Since that time, I’ve continued to work in the Business Division. I was initially hired to teach Secretarial Science, but have evolved into Information Systems Technology with the completion of several graduate courses. I’ve been teaching in the IT field since about 1992. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the years (particularly administrators), but I’ve always enjoyed working with my colleagues in the Business and IT Division. As far as I’m concerned, they/we are the hardest working group on campus! – Dana Crismond 93


That September the college welcomed five additional Board members—Mr. Gary Bevins and Mr. Bobby G. Nixon, both of Wise County, Mr. Jay Bowen and Mr. Robert Gay from Scott County, and Mr. Henry Spangler representing Dickenson County. MECC’s College Board consisted of fifteen members representing Lee, Wise, Scott, and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton. Board members served four-year terms with membership rotations occurring annually. The second fall professional development seminar sponsored by the Professional Secretaries International Mountain Empire Chapter and Mountain Empire Community College occurred on September 11. Mrs. Charlotte Moore, Assistant Professor of Business, spoke on “Are you Minding your P’s and D’s?” (Personal and Professional Development). Dr. Robert E. Taylor, Manager of Administration at Westmoreland Coal Company, led a distinguished group in a panel discussion of ways to achieve professional growth. Among the many new classes in various topics offered at the college, a night program in drafting and design began under the tutelage of Mr. Gerry Laney. The night program opened access to potential students who worked during day hours to train for employment as draftsmen. The tenth annual Home Crafts Day was held on October 10. Two surviving daughters of nationally-known folk singer Guy Carawan Powers, Ada and Carrie Powers, highlighted the program. The original band with only Guy and his wife began playing music around 1914. In 1924, they recorded the first country music ever issued commercially. When their four children were born (including Ada and Carrie), the Family became known as Fiddlin’ Powers and Family. After the deaths of Guy and the only son Charles, Ada and Carrie began to play together again around 1970. Also performing during that year’s crafts day was artist Doyle Vaden, considered the leading graphic historian of early rural American architecture. One featured attraction of the 1981 Home Crafts Day was the horse pulling contest. Draft horses towed large sleds loaded with weights across the ground. The contest harkened to the days when horses drew such necessities as logs from forests.

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The college closed out the year of growth with a new treat for its students. In early November of 1981, MECC held its first picnic luncheon. Faculty and staff planned the affair and cooked hamburgers and hotdogs for over 500 students. Several businesses contributed food, including Moore’s Potato Chip Company, Fraley’s Coach House, Big Stone Gap Kiwanis Club, Cas Walker’s Supermarket, Purity Baking Company, Quality Supply, Inc., Bank of Virginia, and Lonesome Pine Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Recording artist Mr. Jack Tottle provided musical entertainment. It was a festive conclusion to a productive year.

n early November of 1981, MECC held its first picnic luncheon.

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MECC Education Foundation The Mountain Empire Community College Educational Foundation was formed in January 1981 and received its certificate of incorporation from the Virginia State Corporation Commission on September 25, 1981. The Foundation is a charitable, non-profit, non-stock corporation that is legally separate from the college and was established to assist the college in its stated purpose of providing quality educational opportunities and services to the citizens of Southwest Virginia. Current legislative restrictions prevented funding for some areas including student scholarships and financial assistance, equipment, faculty development, and community service. The primary function of the Foundation is to serve as a vehicle for receiving gifts, grants, donations, or bequests from the private sector to the college targeting these areas. The stated purpose of the Foundation is to provide “appropriate means for individuals, organizations, business and industry to participate actively in the growth and development of their community college, and thereby to contribute directly to the growth and development of their community.” The Foundation is governed by a Board of Directors, which includes community leaders, the college president, the Dean of Academic and Student Services, a representative from the college’s classified staff, and a representative from the college’s faculty. The first MECC Educational Foundation’s Board was chaired by Carl Knight, former editor of The Post and former member of the Virginia College Board. Knight described the establishment of Mountain Empire Community College as “the most important single happening for the people of the area in my lifetime.” He served with Jay Bowen, Wise County National Bank, vice chairman; Louise Brown, secretary; and Everett Sadler, Jr., treasurer; both of MECC. Linda Kilgore served as the first Foundation Director. Gibson Explosive Products in Duffield was the first Presidential Charter Member of the Foundation. Gibson specified that its $1,000 gift to the Foundation be used to provide scholarships at MECC to students from each of the three high schools in Scott County, Virginia. Gibson Explosives employees had received educational training at MECC through the college’s co-op program. (MECC News Release, 1983)

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y attitude has changed from skepticism to a loyal proponent of the College.

Mrs. Sue P. Rosenbalm, Ewing, Virginia, had been involved in education for many years and during the founding years of MECC was “doubtful about the future of the College.” That doubt changed over the ensuing years to confidence and support. “My attitude has changed from skepticism to a loyal proponent of the College,” Mrs. Rosenbalm said. She verified that commitment by making a $500 contribution to the college, thus becoming a Charter Member of the MECC Educational Foundation. (MECC News Release, 1983)

In one year’s time the support from communities and individuals in Scott, Lee, Wise, and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton grew to 63 members for the MECC Educational Foundation, with 22 of those contributors giving $1,000 each to achieve the rank of Presidential Member. In November 1983, Mr. Ted Leisenring announced that Westmoreland Coal Company had approved $48,154 as a donation to the Foundation to provide furnishings and audio-visual equipment for the new Dalton-Cantrell Building. MECC’s Foundation was off to a promising beginning, projecting growth that, indeed, continued over subsequent years. (MECC News Release, 1983) 95


With MECC’s Education Foundation established and prospering, the college continued its growth during 1982. Evidence of wide and varied offerings of classes appeared in daily news reports. Chief among MECC’s endeavors toward growth were mining training classes and course in fitness as well as seminars on business. To move forward in providing adequate facilities for increasing enrollments, the college won a grant from the Section 601 Energy Impact Program for $315,930. The money was processed through the Farmers Home Administration. The projected building had already received $1 million from state funds and was scheduled to receive another $690,000 in the next legislative budget. (MECC News Release, 1982) Continued enrollment growth, however, did present some problems. MECC was falling behind in funds for instructors, and the state budget for 1982 did not provide for hiring enough teachers to meet projected needs. With an expected enrollment of 1200 full time students in the fall, class enrollments faced possible limits. For example, there were only 36 spaces in the nursing training program with over 100 applicants waiting to enter. One of the most popular courses at MECC was the nine-credit “Man and His Environment” summer program taught by Mr. Jim Durham, Associate Professor of Mathematics. The program was funded by the Westmoreland Foundation and Penn-Virginia Coal Company. Those business interests provided funds for tuition fees, supplies and materials for 30 selected teachers in Wise, Scott, Lee, and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton to gain valuable training in environmental awareness and energy issues. Members of the Omega Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Lambda at MECC attended the PBL State Leadership Conference in Staunton, Virginia, on April 2 and 3 and won their respective competitions. The winners were Carla Gardner Cater in the corresponding secretary event, Jeff DeBoard in the treasurer event, and Becky Gilliam in the executive typist event. Also, MECC’s team won third place in the best local chapter activities event. Two important milestones were begun as spring warmed into summer. Construction began on the Dalton-Cantrell mining facility. It would become the only educational facility of its kind in Virginia. The second milestone was the college reaching its tenth year of operation. To mark that goal, Dr. Ficker posted a message to the community that included these comments: For anyone in our service area who desires to live a better life through education, Mountain Empire offers that opportunity. This opportunity does not always mean the college itself. By working with various community and regional state agencies, the opportunities become multiplied many times over. What lies ahead for the college? The future is hard to predict and only one certainty exists. As long as the college stays close to the source of its strength, the people it serves, the college will be in good hands. For in reality the college belongs to the community it serves and Mountain Empire is this community’s college. (Ficker, 1982) The college held its 10th anniversary celebration on May 1, 1982. Governor John Dalton and Congressman William Wampler attended the two-hour celebration on the college’s campus. Also 96


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ied inexorably to the coal industry, Mountain Empire offers many programs for the mining and miningrelated industry.

attending were Dr. James H. Hinson, Chancellor of VCCS, MECC Board Chairman Howard E. Quillen, and state Senator John C. Buchanan. Mr. Orby Cantrell had been scheduled to speak; however, he passed away and was buried the following day, May 2. At the ceremony, Dr. Victor B. Ficker said, “Tied inexorably to the coal industry, Mountain Empire offers many programs for the mining and mining-related industry.” (Dalton, 1982)

College faculty continued to improve their instructional skills. Mrs. Carolyn Hamilton Reynolds, Assistant Professor of English, gained certification as a developmental education specialist from the Kellogg Institute for the Training and Certification of Developmental Educators in the spring of 1982. Mrs. Reynolds’ certification was a result of her participation in and completion of an implementation project at MECC. She was part of 47 educators across the United States who took part in the summer program. (Hooper, 1982) The college conferred 160 degrees on graduates during the June 11 graduation ceremony. Ford C. Quillen, Delegate of the Virginia General Assembly, delivered the commencement address. He told the graduates, “This is a troubled world with many dangers, so now you are better prepared to meet these challenges.” (Quillen, 1982) In other developments during the summer of ‘82, a group of mining officials laid plans for the college’s new environmental sciences technology program to begin in the fall quarter. To provide instruction, the college hired Mr. Donald M. Phelps as Assistant Professor of Environmental Science in August. Mr. Phelps held a master’s degree in civil engineering from Washington State University. Also, the college hired Robert D. Collier as Assistant Professor of Electronics and Ms. Rhoda Bliese Kyle as Assistant Professor of Developmental English/Reading. Mr. Collier had served as head of mathematics at John I. Burton High School and held a Master of Science Degree from James Madison University. Ms. Kyle held degrees from the University of Kentucky with advanced studies from the University of Maryland. The college also reported that it had set a new record of serving over 6,000 students during the previous academic year. Out of 100,000 people living in the service area, one in six had attended at least one class at MECC.

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hen the waitress

When I interviewed for my position at MECC, I stayed took my order, I at the Trail Motel. I left the interviews feeling good and decided to celebrate at the Coach House with a asked, “What kind of dinner of steak and wine. When the waitress took my wines do you have? She order, I asked, “What kind of wines do you have? She replied in an Appalachian replied in an Appalachian accent, “White.” I said, accent, “White.” “I’d like red.” We’ve got it, but you can’t have it!” “Why?” “Because the white’s open! We don’t sell much wine here!” she informed me firmly. – Rhoda Kyle/Bliese As MECC continued to add classes to serve business and personal interests and to support programs of study, it hired several more new instructors to teach. Mr. Lawrence Holleyfield, a Vietnam veteran who studied at Kentucky State University, joined the Industrial Technology Division as 97


a mining instructor. Mr. Michael Baker came to the Business Technology Division as a cost accounting and intermediate accounting instructor. Baker was a CPA with an undergraduate degree in business from ETSU. Other new faculty included Dr. Joel L. Bailey, Ed. D., from the University of Tennessee, as Associate Professor of Developmental English, Yvonne Stamper, M.S in science from ETSU, as instructor of math, and Mr. Roger Thompson, associate degrees from MECC and from Roane State Community College, as instructor of Respiratory Therapy. Also, Mrs. Shirley Wells returned to MECC as Instructor of Secretarial Science, and Ms. Sheridan Mitchell was appointed as counselor. Wells held a B.S. degree in admissions management from Clinch Valley College. Mitchell held a masters degree from Xavier University in guidance and counseling. Three outgoing members of MECC’s Business Advisory Board were honored during the first fall meeting. They were Mr. Bill Kerney, Mr. Jay Vermillion, and Mr. Jim Williams, all of Gate City. All three had served since 1979. The college closed out 1982 with a series of events and activities. Home Crafts Day occurred on October 16 and featured a new attraction. In addition to the individual displays of crafts and exhibits of mountain culture, a company store and a country Christmas shop opened in two college classrooms. John McCutcheon and Rich Kirby played music again for a large crowd. Co-op and Career Development Counselor Mr. John Hackett led a group of hikers in search of wild mushrooms. The College Board chose Mr. Charles E. Morris as its new Chairman and invited three new members to replace three members who were rotating off. The three new members were Mrs. Nancy Gibson of Ewing, Mr. Earl C. Johnston of Pennington Gap, and Ms. Sandy Montgomery of Jonesville. When I first came to MECC, I was part-time Student Services Coordinator. There were only two phys. ed. classes offered per quarter and one lecture health class and an independent study health class. Student Services sponsored activities and SGA. I made ID cards as well. The phys. ed. classes have increased from two to seven-eight a semester. Class offerings include, racquetball, wallyball, golf, archery, tennis, aerobics, yoga, weight training, volleyball, badminton and basketball. Through the years classes have been taught at the BSG National Guard Armory, Appalachia Civic Center, BSG Town Hall, Gold’s Gym, and The Gym. Presently, only The Gym and Gilliam’s Racquetball court are used. The addition of the Fitness Center on campus did not eliminate the necessity to use off-campus facilities. MECC’s flag football and basketball extramural teams have traveled to tournaments at UVA-Wise, Virginia Western Community College. UVA-Wise hosted an extramural flag football tournament about 10 years ago. MECC was one of 15 colleges and community colleges invited and the only college/community college that participated. – Carolyn Sumpter Many MECC people will remember 1982 as the year the college led the way in emergency medical 98


training. Mrs. Pat Tate taught EMT to hundreds of people in the area, qualifying those who completed the 81-hour course to serve in ambulances as emergency medical technicians. Under the leadership of Mr. Rex McCarty, MECC’s Student Government Association held a book exchange project for students and collected Christmas toys for children in December. Collecting toys became a timely project when nearly 1,800 children, including Mrs. Grace’s first graders from Powell Valley Elementary, visited Santa during the college’s tenth annual Christmas cartoon series. MECC was one of eleven colleges and universities in Virginia to receive a grant from the Funds for Excellence program. The Council of Higher Education reviewed 45 proposals and chose MECC to receive its full request of $45,962 for 1983-84. And finally, Mrs. Janet Phipps Lester became a certified graphologist after completing an 18-month extension course through the International Graphoanalysis Society of Chicago, Illinois. A professor of psychology at MECC, Mrs. Lester was in a position to put her new skills of identifying personality traits to productive use in her profession. 1983 marked more growth as MECC offered classes in keyboarding, information processing, aerobic dancing, community relations, legal and dental assistance, pharmacy, mining, art, calligraphy, medical care, real estate, geriatric nursing, and various other topics. Newspapers announced that “MECC classes offer something for everyone!” The college continued its support of students through scholarships (from Gibson Explosives for students from Scott and Lee Counties), Foundation contributions (from Powell Mountain Coal for mining students), and a memorial scholarship endowed in honor of Mr. Don McCollum who served as Director of Student Services until his death in July 1982. Another scholarship, the Orby Cantrell Memorial Fund, was established in memory of the long-time Southwest Virginia member of the House of Delegates. Several political leaders spearheaded the drive for the fund, including Jim Hughes of the Peoples Bank of Pound, State Senator John Buchanan of Wise, and Delegates Ford Quillen of Gate City and Jim Robinson of Pound.

Orby Cantrell

1983 also marked the opening of the soon-to-be-famous Dungannon Depot, a rural community center used for off-campus classes. Open house for the facility occurred in January of 1983. Dean of Instruction Michael Hensley and Director of Continuing Education George Edwards led the activities. During a discussion session, one student volunteered, “Classes here are the only blessing of unemployment.” President Victor Ficker commented, “We do hear that wherever we go about Dungannon.” He commented further, “Momentarily overcome by his emotions . . . [that] he flunked out of three universities and completed a tour of duty in the Marine Corps before ‘finding a community college that wanted me.’” (Beck, 1983) Dungannon Depot’s fame arose from the women who attended classes in the small and historic 99


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railroad station. They were a determined group who worked diligently to get classes taught at Dungannon, prepared the depot for occupation, helped recruit students into courses, and eagerly attended classes. They promoted education as a way for Dungannon residents—women in particular—to improve the quality of their lives. At the Comprehensive Dungannon Reunion of 2009, Carol Sluss, a charter member of the Dungannon group, said of MECC: “You took care of the kids. You took care of us old people too.” Carol, boosted by her resolve at Dungannon Depot, thrived in a nursing career and retired in 2009.

ungannon Depot’s fame arose from the women who attended classes in the small and historic railroad station.

My funniest challenge was being sent to The Dungannon Depot – night class – heated by a wood stove. I had a fall class and at some point in the semester it got really cold and my students told me that I needed to build a fire. And I said, “What are you talking about?” And they said, “Well, there’s a little stove there, and you need to build a fire.” And I said, “I am a city girl! I don’t know how to build a fire.” The class was all adults and they were delightful – but it was not an ideal teaching situation. This was early 80s – my first year was 1978. – Carolyn Reynolds To add to student educational support, Presidential Honor Scholarships were offered by MECC for the fall quarter. Top high school students (valedictorians and salutatorians and honor winners) from area high schools were chosen to receive full tuition, and the scholarship was automatically renewed for the second year of attendance. Valedictorians Jackie McNeil of Flatwoods High, Angela Baker of Dryden High, salutatorian Alan Lane of Rye Cove High, and honor students Stephanie Boggs of Pound High, Denise Ireson of Appalachia High, and Leann Markham of Coeburn High won Presidential Honor Scholarships and attended MECC that fall. Mrs. Louise Brown won Secretary of the Year and Mrs. Peggy Durham won Executive of the Year for 1982 – 83. The Mountain Empire Chapter of PSI sponsored the awards, which were given at a ceremony and luncheon on April 21. The summer of 1983 recorded several notable proceedings at MECC. The college continued to explore innovative ways to serve community needs through classes in mining retraining, production and emergency training, and mine land reclamation, as well as the acclaimed “Man and His Environment” class taught by math professor Jim Durham. The popular summer class drew 30 teachers from the area. It received the Wildlife Federation Award for its outstanding contributions to environmental education. Westmoreland Coal Company contributed to class costs. The annual John Fox, Jr. Festival, held on May 25, featured two accomplished literary artists, novelist Harry Caudill and poet-novelist Fred Chappell. Mr. Caudill was the author of several books about mountain life, and Fred Chappell was a flourishing poet who had published a four-part novel in verse bringing together his background in the hills of North Carolina. Dr. Carolyn Rogers, Professor of English, working with Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts and other MECC English faculty, directed the festival activities. Dr. Rogers, a Smyth County native, featured Appalachian heritage in classes she taught at MECC, and she was currently working on a novel recalling her heritage. 100


Nursing Professor Ms. Alice Stallings retired at the end of the 1983 academic year. She had taught at the college for four years and was the campus coordinator of nursing. She was greatly appreciated by students, all of whom took the certifying exams in Roanoke in July. Senator John Warner spoke to about 160 graduates at MECC’s eleventh commencement ceremonies at 2:00 p.m. on June 11. Beneath a hot afternoon sun, he told students he would be brief and stated, put your “knowledge and skill . . . toward providing our way out of unemployment and our way out of our dependence on foreign oil.” (Brooks, 1983) Yes, the country faced the same problems in 1983 it faces today (2010).

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enator John Warner spoke to about 160 graduates at MECC’s eleventh commencement ceremonies.

The best thing about my MECC experience was when I came to Mountain Empire I had already been in the work force and one thing that prompted me to come was that I had been taking night classes as I went along. I was married and then I experienced a layoff and that really made me think about what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I needed a good education to go forward. Mountain Empire was the perfect answer for me because I didn’t have a lot of money and it just really fit my need at that time and it was just, if it hadn’t been for Mountain Empire, I’m not sure where I would have gone. I think if it hadn’t been for Mountain Empire maybe I wouldn’t have gone to college.

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So the challenges I’ve faced and at that time too I was going through a divorce, so that was a big hurdle, a lot of unstable things going on. Losing stability with a job and marriage, Mountain Empire really came through and it was just like another family. If I had any problems I could go talk to other students or faculty and it would help.

thought, “Ohmy-gosh! Here is this guy that is going to chew me up and spit me out!

I remember Bill Carter was assigned as my advisor and scared me to death the first time I walked in there. I thought, “Oh-mygosh! Here is this guy that is going to chew me up and spit me out!” He was just a big marshmallow after you got to know him. And fortunately, he had my sister before me, which I don’t know if that was fortunate or not; but he knew a little bit about me and he would have done anything for me, which he did. He helped me progress at MECC until I was ready to look at other colleges and helped me set up interviews and he just went above and beyond what most people would have done. When I had any stumbling blocks, Leah Hicks and Shirley Wells were there to help hold my hand practically and guide me along. Pat Miller helped me when MECC moved from the quarter system to the semester system. She encouraged me to take a semester of accounting that I needed. – Jane Jones.

MECC dropped its tuition before the summer quarter from $15.50 to $13.50 a credit hour. Students 101


saved $6 for a three-credit course. Out-of-state tuition was $58 per credit. While this hourly reduction in costs saved money for students taking twelve or fewer credits, the VCCS no longer permitted students to take beyond twelve credits at no additional costs; therefore, overall expenses rose for those students electing to take fifteen or eighteen hours per quarter. A scholarship was established for long-time Lee County school teacher and MECC Board Member Ms. Grace Davis, for her contributions to education. The Grace Davis Scholarship Fund for Lee County students at MECC received numerous contributions from such organizations as Farmers and Miners Bank, Lee Bank and Trust, People’s Bank of Ewing, and other organizations. Ms. Davis, a dedicated educator, was said to have named the college when she handed a piece of paper to Mr. Edgar Bacon on which she had written “Mountain Empire. How’s that sound for a college?” (MECC News Release, 1983) Consolidated Coal donated $3,000 to MECC in support of the mining technology program. Penn Virginia established scholarship funds in support of MECC’s environmental science program. Personnel changes from spring until fall included Academic Dean Michael Hensley leaving his post in May to take a similar position at John Tyler Community College. Dr. John Garmon, a native of Texas, replaced Dr. Hensley in August. Dr. Garmon held a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas, and a doctorate in English from Ball State University in Indiana. Also, William “Dub” Osborne joined MECC’s faculty as Assistant Professor of Law Enforcement for the fall quarter. Osborne held a master’s degree in education from Union College and was enrolled in advanced studies at ETSU. Osborne replaced Harvey Gray Barnes. Class and program offerings grew again in the fall of 1983 with the introduction of a flexible drafting program under the direction of Mr. Gerry Laney, and a variation in mining technology classes to include production and safety and mine land reclamation topics. Mr. Gary Nickles taught his mining students that “Good safety records go hand-in-hand with good production records.” (MECC News Release, 1983) The Job Training Partnership Act replaced the old CETA program aimed at training teens for the job market. Any economically disadvantaged resident 16 years old or older was eligible to receive funds for books, tuition, transportation, job-placement assistance, and counseling toward employment from the new JTPA program. Nine-month certificate programs available to recipients included geriatric nurse aide and electronics. My experiences at MECC began as a student in the Secretarial Science program in 1983. It was then that I also began my first real job - as a work-study in the Business Technology Division. Peggy Rusek was my first supervisor, and that experience led to a part-time secretarial position in the Mining and Industrial Technology Division sometime later that year. I became a full-time employee (same position) in the Spring of 1984, and graduated from the program in ‘85. Peggy also gave me the opportunity to teach as an adjunct (keyboarding, records management, etc.) and I continued to teach on a part-time basis until 1992. I resigned the Division 102


Secretary’s position in December of 1987 to go to work as a Legislative Assistant for a member of the House of Delegates and held several positions after that. I can’t say that there was one “best” experience during that time, but the whole experience, and the people that I worked with at every level, were just amazing. Oh, there were lots and lots of good times, and I don’t know how I would pick just one favorite memory.  The basketball games between the faculty and students were some of the best. One particular game sticks out in my memory because a group of us were chosen as cheerleaders, and we danced to “Footloose” during half-time. We really thought we were something!  There was also a foundation dinner where members of PBL were asked to serve as waitresses.  It was at the Appalachia Civic Center and we had a ball.  There were about ten or twelve of us working.  After everything was over, while we were supposed to be cleaning up, we went on stage and danced. It was a neat experience, but I learned that I would not make a good waitress. The class work was always good because the instructors made it fun. But outside activities were the times I remember the most -- hanging around with friends on the steps outside of Godwin, making friendships that have lasted a long time. We would sit out in the hallway, the guys would play their guitars and we would sing. Everything was good. Looking back, when I was here as a student, the campus was much smaller.  We were more of a tight-knit group back then because everyone knew who you were and what you were doing.  I miss that perspective of it. To say who influenced my career the most, it would have to be Leah Hicks, Shirley Wells, Ann Davis and Peggy Rusek. Those ladies really led me to where I am now.  When I left the college in 1987, I knew that I wanted to return one day. I guess you could say that I wanted to be the teacher and mentor to others that they had been to me. I truly feel they made a big difference in my life. The faces at MECC have changed some, and there are many more of us now. But everything about MECC is still good.  It’s a great place to be. – Vickie Ratliff

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o say who influenced my career the most, it would have to be Leah Hicks and Shirley Wells, and Peggy Rusek too.

MECC’s twelfth annual Home Crafts Day occurred on October 15, 1983. Along with its traditional music and crafts, the program featured Jim and Alberta Stanley, Hobart Crabtree and his band from the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Drama. Also playing were the Reedy Creek bluegrass band, the Home Folks, the Peters Brothers bluegrass band, Charlie Mack Daugherty, Chester Wilson, Bill Necessary, Tom Bledsoe, and Rich Kirby. A special feature that year was “Uncle” Charles Osborne of Moccasin Creek in Russell County, who at 93 had been playing the fiddle since he was 17. Home Crafts Day had grown during those first twelve years into a major music and crafts event, recognized widely around the region and, indeed, the country. That October 15 was a perfect day with warm temperatures and the colorful background of the Appalachian Mountains. 103


Gibson’s Explosives once again gave $1,000 to MECC’s Foundation to be used as financial aid for students enrolled in the college’s cooperative education option. The donation, the second one from Gibson’s, made the company a Charter Member of the MECC Educational Foundation. Mr. Ted Leisenring, Chairman of the Board of Westmoreland Coal Company, presented MECC’s Foundation with a check for $48,154, in support of the Mining and Industrial Technology curriculum. The donation was used to provide furnishings and audio-visual equipment for the New Dalton-Cantrell Mining Technology Building under construction.

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hree hundred people attended “A Gala Benefit - Night of the Stars,” the college’s first annual benefit to raise funds for the Foundation.

Three hundred people attended “A Gala Benefit—Night of the Stars,” the college’s first annual benefit to raise funds for the Foundation, held in November. Several local high school groups sang and played music. College Board Chairman Mr. Harold Armsey served as master of ceremonies. The evening was filled with talented entertainment and culminated in a salute to Charter Members. “The night was actually a kickoff to the future of the Foundation,” said Dr. Linda Kilgore, MECC Foundation Director. (MECC News Release, 1983) And finally, during the first week of December, over 1,800 children once again attended MECC’s Children’s Cartoon Festival. They met Santa and watched cartoons while munching popcorn and sipping colas. Andrenna Belcher entertained the kids with old world tales and led them in a singalong of traditional Christmas carols. The event was a fitting close to another successful year at MECC.

Dual Enrollment — While a story in The Kingsport Times-News states that MECC had offered dual enrollment programs to area schools since 1989, the college actually began offering dual enrollment classes in Scott County in Fall Quarter 1983. Dr. Linda Kilgore, Dean of Academics and Student Services, remembers beginning the agreement that fall because her son John Kilgore was a junior at Gate City High School in 1983 and matriculated in dual enrollment classes his senior year, 1984. As early as the spring of 1983, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction met with the VCCS Chancellor and asked that community colleges offer classes in English don’t know if and math to high school seniors that would provide college credits to we were first in those students. The two leaders decided on a “dual enrollment” plan. No funds were provided to support efforts, however, and community dual enrollment or not, but we colleges did not begin dual enrollment classes immediately.

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must have been

MECC may have been the first college in Virginia to offer dual one of the first. enrollment. No one at MECC remembers which college began first. Dr. Ficker commented later that “We were first in many things back then. I don’t know if we were first in dual enrollment or not, but we must have been one of the first.” 104


Dual Enrollment began simply. Dr. Ficker asked Van Rose to oversee dual enrollment classes taught in Scott County as instructor of record. After some discussion concerning the logistics of offering college credits to students in high school classrooms taught by high school teachers—and after assurances from President Ficker and Dean Kilgore that MECC’s dual enrollment classes would be “exemplary”– Rose agreed to supervise them. Ficker, Kilgore and Rose drove to the Scott County School Board Offices, where they met with Mr. Danny Dixon and Ms. Jennifer Frazier. Ficker produced a one-page agreement stating that MECC would offer credits for designated classes taught at Scott County high schools. The agreement was signed with plans in place to begin classes immediately. That fall, dual enrollment classes in freshman composition began at Gate City, Twin Springs, and Rye Cove High Schools. Mrs. Margaret Coleman taught the Gate City High class; Ms. Carmen Stallard taught at Twin Springs; and Ms. Becky Coleman taught at Rye Cove High. (Later, Dr. Frank Quillen taught at Rye Cove.) High school teachers used Mr. Rose’s freshman English syllabi and the same English-department–approved textbooks currently adopted at the college. The plan was for instructors to teach college composition three days each week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and to cover high school classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. High school semesters extended longer than college schedules, therefore instructors could complete additional class work. At the time, students were covering college composition and using forty percent of class time to complete senior English. High school enrollees had to be seniors with three units of English completed, who demonstrated writing competency on MECC placement tests, including an essay based upon selected topics. During the first year, tests were administered by Peggy Durham, Director of Student Services. Later Van Rose administered tests. During each semester, Rose visited with teachers at the three sites to observe classes, and to discuss activities, instructional methods, and progress. Teachers evaluated students’ work in consultation with Rose. College and high school personnel made every effort to assure academic integrity. Student grades were submitted to Mr. Rose, reviewed, and forwarded to Records. Over the years MECC’s dual enrollment program has grown to include high schools in every county within MECC’s service area and constitutes 21 percent of MECC’s total enrollment. The college’s early program was a precursor of the current VCCS dual enrollment program, which provides plans for community colleges to offer wide ranges of classes to students through individual college agreements. (MECC News Release, 2001)

Mining Programs Grow — As 1984 began, MECC looked to the future with expanded mining, law enforcement, and environmental science programs. Interest ran high, and The Coalfield Progress published a feature article praising the contributions of community colleges in general and MECC in particular, noting MECC’s growth and its support of the coal industry. The new mining technology building (DaltonCantrell Hall) was set to open for fall quarter. In anticipation of the opening, Westmoreland 105


Coal Company donated two CM-32 continuous miners manufactured by Lee-Norris of Wise, Va., to provide extra training opportunities and practical experience to mining students. Mining Technology Division Chairman Randy Castle explained that the massive machines were learning tools showing students the ins and outs of continuous miner mechanics, maintenance and repair. (MECC News Release, 1984) A third continuous miner, a CM-265, a newer and slightly larger model than the CM-32, was also donated to the college on a temporary basis. The CM-265 was currently used in some mines in the area. These winds of change blew through the year, sweeping the college toward greater expansion and productivity . . . and toward another transition. Westmoreland Coal Company extended its munificence by donating an additional $50,000 to the college to provide furniture and A-V equipment in the new building. Mr. Martin J. McConnell, Senior Vice-President of Finance and Administration at Westmoreland-Penn Virginia Coal Company in Philadelphia, presented the check to Dr. Victor B. Ficker, President of MECC. Mrs. Virginia Meador and Mr. Harold Armsey also attended the ceremony in the college’s board room. Coal mining generosity continued as five MECC students received the Al Minton Scholarship to assist their studies at the college. The recipients were William Johnson, William Lambert, Titus Mullins, Lester Russell, and Louis Warren. Dr. John Garmon presented the check for $5,000 to MECC mining instructor Mr. Gary Nickels. The scholarship fund was established through a $1,000 donation from Westmoreland Coal Company to commemorate the work of Al Minton, a well-loved and highly regarded instructor of electrical and mechanical education for Westmoreland who taught for eleven years at MECC. Mr. Minton died in October of 1983. Paramount Coal Company President Michael J. Quillen was chosen to deliver the commencement address to the largest class ever to graduate at ceremonies held June 9 on the campus parking lot. Quillen had headed Paramount Coal for more than four years and had recently become a member of the State Board of the VCCS. He was a Scott County native who lived in Gate City and served on the Board of Directors of the Duffield Development Authority, The Virginia Coal Association, Virginia Coal Council, Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association, Sovran Bank, and St. Mary’s Hospital. Quillen told the approximately 250 candidates:

. . .success is not how far you get in life, but the distance you travel from where you started.

I want to bring out three points I feel are universal in whatever the next step in your life is. First, the education you have just completed tells the world . . . you have the ability to complete a task. . . . The second point, and I feel the most important, is the experience that you will need to make productive use of the educational phase you have just completed. . . . The third point is, what is success? . . . [S]uccess is not how far you get in life, but the distance you travel from where you started. (Dalton, Michael J. Quillen Addresses MECC Graduates, 1984) With the $3 million mining tech building scheduled to open in August, the college began a program to train authorized reclamation representatives on June 5, 1984, in response to a recent amendment to the Virginia State Code. The curriculum required 40 hours of mining reclamation training as prescribed by the Virginia Board of Conservation and Economic Development. Candidates could exempt from the course by achieving an acceptable score on a certification exam administered by the State Division of Mined Land Reclamation. 106


Other Programs and Activities — Other programs benefiting from the new facilities were law enforcement and environmental science. Whatever people called it—law enforcement, police science, or criminal justice—MECC’s program included a six-week basic training curriculum for local law enforcement agencies, a oneyear certificate program for officers progressing in their careers, and a two-year associate degree, set to begin in the 1984-85 year, for professionals in criminal justice fields. During the summer, thirteen local police officers completed the law enforcement program as graduates.

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With the rising national emphasis on conservation, MECC’s ith the rising environmental science program was burgeoning. Don national emphasis Phelps, recognized as a lover of the great outdoors who went through the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens on conservation, MECC’s and as a knowledgeable instructor of FORTRAN, served as environmental science assistant professor of environmental science at MECC from progam was burgeoning. 1983 - 1985. With his combined skills in climate issues and computer technology, he helped students prepare for careers in environmental science positions which required employees to work outside in the field as well as in offices with computers, or those students could transfer to four-year programs at a university. MECC’s environmental science students received ten scholarships funded through Penn-Virginia Corporation. The scholarships provided $200 per student towards tuition for three quarters. In other activities at MECC, the college’s students and faculties divided according to the two existing buildings to play doubleheader basketball games to benefit a new student activities center, a lounge and grill. It was the one and only game ever played officially among college personnel, and it was scheduled at the Powell Valley High School gym at 8 p.m. on (appropriately) Friday, April 13. The first game of the evening between the students of Godwin Hall, the A-Team, and the students of Holton Hall, the Junior Hustlers, was an exciting and a high-scoring affair, ending in a 58 to 58 tie. The second game, between the A-Team faculty from Arts and Sciences and The Hustlers from Mining and Industrial Technology, featured less athletic drama and more humor. It was a display of finesse and long-distance shooting (often missing by long distances) from the A-Team against the run-and-gun, big bruiser style of The Hustlers. Mrs. Peggy Durham, who had won fame as an all-star basketball player for Roanoke College and was a member of the Roanoke College Hall of Fame, coached the A-Team. She stated of her team: “We’re in good shape and ready to go.” Mr. Randy Castle, Chairman of the Mining and Industrial Technology Division was the head honcho of The Hustlers. He reported of his team: “We’ll probably run a full-court, man-to-man press and variations of a wheel-type offense.” (From MECC Archives.) Defense worked for both sides. But The Hustlers crushing defense, aided by the A-Team’s cold shooting, proved to be the difference. The game ended in a 12 to 12 tie. The benefits, however, 107


were bountiful, as the game and the Victory Dance held at the Ramada Inn in Duffield later that night raised approximately $1,500 for the student center. I remember the infamous basketball game played at Powell Valley High School between the employees and students of Buildings A and B. It was a fundraiser for the college and was meant to be entertaining and fun, but I found that some of the employees always wanted to win. As I remember, it was quite a defensive game with the final score being 13-12 and the winning basket was made by “Dub” Osborne. – George Edwards. I came to MECC in 1983 as a student, in the good old days. One of my first memories here was the basketball game. We had to be the cheerleaders. We had a good time. That seems like a lifetime ago, though. I was trying to think of the name of that song that we had to dance to. All I can think about it is that little movie with the penguins. It was something about feet. Do you remember that? It’s a really fast song. Oh yeah . . . “Happy Feet.” – Vickie Ratliff. The college “Spring Fling,” held on May 31, also helped raise funds for the student lounge and grill. In addition, students held car washes, bake sales, a slave auction, and an art show to raise funds. The goal was to raise $5,000. These monies, along with $119,000 from the Virginia General Assembly, were used to renovate Holton Hall the following year. The eighth annual John Fox, Jr. Festival occurred on May 23 and once again featured dancing by the Rye Cove Cloggers and the literary and musical performance of Klell Napps. Appearing for the first time were authors Jim Wayne Miller and Lou W. Crabtree. Miller had won the 1980 Thomas Wolfe Award for his work, The Mountains have Come Closer. Crabtree’s Tales from Sweet Hollow had received national critical acclaim. In addition to those highly regarded performers, Richard Jones, nationally known poet, editor, critic, and English professor at the University of Virginia read from his works. Two MECC professors received notoriety during the spring of 1984. Mr. Bill Harris gained acclaim for his photography, which was displayed at the Library Gallery of the Wise County Public Library. His work spanned twenty years of taking pictures around Virginia, from the beach to Richmond, to Blacksburg and on to Wise County. Those photos record state scenery from oceans, to rivers, to mountains streams. Also, Mr. Gary Bumgarner was noted e have seen a lot for his affable style of teaching and his contributions to the community. Mr. Bumgarner combined his work at the college of changes but I believe there is one thing with membership in several area clubs and organizations.

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that has been constant and that is a desire by the entire college community to work towards bettering our students’ lives.

I really liked this place, and I came down for a long time and of course my wife and I have loved it. All three of our kids’ birth certificates say that they are from Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Even though I don’t talk like you all, my kids do and we are proud of that. We 108


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have seen a lot of changes but I believe there is one thing o that torch that has been constant and that is a desire by the entire of student college community to work towards bettering our students’ lives. I was really impressed over the years with a focus on focus, community what we want to get, the focus on providing service to the involvement, has students, good academics, outreach and I’ve been impressed been passed over the with that. Nearing retirement here, I look back at who is years and it’s alive going to be around when I leave and I feel confident that we and well. have a really good bunch of people. So that torch of student focus, community involvement, has been passed over the years and it’s alive and well. – Gary Bumgarner. In other events, MECC’s dental program continued to grow from its inception in 1980. A. L. Compton was the first student from Dungannon Depot to receive his degree, taking all his classes at the Depot, and completing his Associate Degree in Business Management entirely through off-campus classes. Data and word processing began its rise to prominence. Mr. Gary Jessee, according to local businesses, brought MECC’s data processing program up to par with programs from much larger institutions. Mr. Jessee held a M. S. degree from Virginia Tech and advanced studies from James Madison University. Peggy Rusek, Chair of the Business Technology Division, oversaw word processing classes. She understood that employers wanted office personnel proficient in new word processing skills that had become essential over the past few years. Lesa Lane of Gate City was one of the first students to enroll during the summer of ’84 in the new word processing classes at MECC. She felt she needed to catch up on new skills to meet the needs of changing technology. The computer was, indeed, changing the world. Mountain Empire Community College established the Thomas B. Fugate Memorial Scholarship in honor of the U. S. Representative, who had given much to the citizens of Lee County and Southwest Virginia. Mr. Fugate had served as a member of the Virginia General Assembly from 1929-30, as a director of Civil Works Administration of Lee County in 1933, and as a member of Congress in 1948. Congressman Fugate’s daughter, Ms. Maureen Shandrick, provided a donation to the scholarship fund. “He was always interested in Mountain Empire Community College,” Mrs. Shandrick said. “We hope the scholarship will help those without the financial resources to attend college.” (MECC News Release, 1984) Pam Powers and Tina Fowler, both second-year drafting students at MECC, designed the Pennington Gap High School band room. Mr. Gerry Laney oversaw the drafting project. After receiving training at MECC, Mrs. Vickie Carnette overcame many obstacles faced by women 109


to gain employment at Paramount Coal Company as an underground miner. “Their [MECC’s] program is highly respected by coal companies in the area. I was well prepared, especially in ventilation, state and federal law, and surveying.” (MECC News Release, 1984) Also, the college held a “Funds for Excellence” math and science workshop for top students in the area. Twenty-seven area students attended the six-week workshop, the first workshop of its kind held at MECC, an endeavor conducted by the State Council of Higher Education. Chris Allgyer, Bill Harris and Robert Collier taught various math and science skills to prepare students for college. Other popular courses for the summer included a new science fiction class taught by Dr. Joel Bailey, a children’s computer workshop, the highly received “Man and his Environment” class in environmental studies, and a kids’ storytelling week. The science fiction class featured works by Jules Verne, H. G. Welles, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and others. It was the beginning of a summer class that continues today. Also, in response to the rising popularity of computers among children, MECC offered a children’s computer workshop, taught by Dr. Earl Kocher and designed for the nine-through-twelve age group, during the week of August 6 – 10. Mr. John Donley, Environmental Science Professor at the college, added topics to address new laws in mine reclamation in Virginia to the environmental science class. Students learned how to test samples of surface and ground water on mining sites for impurities. The forty-hour course prepared students to serve as authorized reclamation representatives. Looking like a modern-day Annie Oakley in a period costume and a cowgirl hat, Andrenna Belcher regaled children with her animated storytelling, accompanied by songs and dances. Ms. Belcher also involved the children in making up and acting out stories and songs. The Mountain Empire Chapter of Professional Secretaries International installed new officers Ada Vandeventer, President, Angeline Wilson, Vice-President, Janet Hampton, Secretary, and Faye LeBlanc, Treasurer; and PSI named Thelma Lockhart Outstanding Secretary of the Year and Dr. John Garmon Executive of the Year. The late summer, early fall changes included the appointment of new College Board members and the addition of new faculty. Three local residents joined MECC’s College Board. They were Mr. Jerry Hamilton of Pound, Mrs. Deborah Thomas of Gate City, and Mr. Chester Marcum of Jonesville. Hamilton, a graduate of Emory and Henry College, continued MECC’s close alliance with mining as an employee of Mining Engineering Service, Inc. of Pound. Thomas was well acquainted with the college as a charter member of MECC’s Foundation. Marcum had a long history in education with nineteen years service as principal of Lee County Vocational School. 110


With the creation of a new position in the VCCS, MECC hired three new instructor/counselors to serve within the college’s three divisions. Ms. Delaine Martin came to the college as the instructor/ counselor in the Division of Mining, Business and Technology. Mrs. Janet Lester, formerly an instructor of psychology at MECC, became the instructor/counselor in the Arts and Sciences Division. To complete the emphasis on combining teaching and counseling, Mrs. Louise Brown, who had served as confidential secretary to the president, assumed her new position as instructor/ counselor in the Mining, Business and Technology Division.

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f course, the big news was the opening of Dalton-Cantrell Hall on Saturday, August 18, in a dedication ceremony honoring the two men who were instrumental in getting the building, Governor John N. Dalton, and Congressman Orby L. Cantrell.

Of course, the big news was the opening of Dalton-Cantrell Hall on Saturday, August 18, in a dedication ceremony honoring the two men who were instrumental in getting the building, Governor John N. Dalton, and Congressman Orby L. Cantrell. The impressive edifice, with its 32,000 square feet, increased the building space of the college by 50 percent. It housed several programs in mining, environmental science, electricity/electronics, refrigeration, welding, and drafting and design. At the dedication, Dr. Victor Ficker stated, “The individual support we received was so great, it would be impossible to list here everybody who contributed.” In addition to funds received from the state, funding also came from the Farmers Home Administration, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Westmoreland Coal Company. Ficker also acknowledged Senator John Warner, former Congressman William Wampler, and Gene Dishner of the Department of Housing and Community Development. (MECC News Release, 1984)

Fall Activities — In the fall of ’84, MECC joined with the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) to offer on-thejob training to economically disadvantaged residents of the service area who were 16 years old or older. The JTPA funding offered nine-month certification programs in geriatric nurse aide training, pre-secretarial training, and electricity. With a four-day class schedule in place to relieve transportation costs, the college also began offering extended classes on Fridays and Saturdays. The weekend schedule opened on October 12 and 13 with special interests classes in humanities and social sciences with plans to expand as needed. The 13th annual Home Crafts Day, held on October 20, followed the theme of “doing things the old way.” Popular attractions included an apple butter stir-off, the art of straw broom-making, mountain stories, chair caning by Jean and John Beck, and music by John McCutcheon. Several thousand people attended the yearly event. A crowd of 200 people attended the Second Annual Gala Benefit for MECC, held in the new Dalton-Cantrell Hall on the campus. It marked the second anniversary of MECC’s Foundation, established in 1982 to raise funds for the college through a broadened base of community support. 111


The evening began with a buffet in the main lobby and in the Westmoreland-Penn Virginia Board Room. Pianist Luke Stewart and guitarist/singer Chuck Adkins provided background music. After dinner, the crowd moved to the auditorium, where Harold Armsey served as Master of Ceremonies. Mrs. Virginia Meador, Foundation Board Member, said the evening “typifies the feeling here in Southwest Virginia. If we’re given a chance, we want to give to those less fortunate. The college has given to us, and we want to give back.” (MECC news Release, 1984) Scholarship funds donated to the college included Mountain Empire Older Citizens of Wise, a $500 donation to develop a program of support for families suffering a long-term illness; Westmoreland Coal Company, a $1,000 donation presented by Hershiel H. Hayden for the Harry W. Meador, Jr., Scholarship Fund; and the People’s Bank of Ewing, a $1,250 contribution for the Thomas Fugate Scholarship Fund. Two MECC people received notoriety. Mr. John Cotham, Professional Librarian at MECC, attended a “Let’s Talk About It” workshop sponsored by the American Library Association and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was designed to offer funds, technical assistance, and materials to enable public libraries across the U. S. to present reading and discussion programs for adults who were no longer in school. Mr. Charles Giles retired from the college on October 31. Mr. Giles had been a charter member of the college staff, serving as its business manager from 1972 and later as administrative assistant to the president. In December, the highly popular Children’s Christmas Cartoons Series once again attracted over 1,800 kids to the campus for entertainment and refreshments. The event was coordinated by MECC’s Learning Resources Center—Mel Bullock, Ann Davis, Suzanne Hubbard, and Georgia Sumpter. Mountain Empire concluded 1984 on another high note, as the college was one of only four colleges within Virginia’s twenty-three community colleges to record an enrollment increase for 1983 -1984. And what a boost it was! Numbers of students attending classes increased from 4,851 to 5,672 during the biennium, a jump of 17 percent. Full-time enrollment increased 10.4 percent, a huge boost during times when other community college enrollments declined by an average of 3 percent. Dr. Ficker attributed the increase to the opening of Dalton-Cantrell Hall and to the new mining technology program. (Dellinger, 1984) My best experience at MECC was the life-changing role it has played in my personal and professional life for over 20 years, and also the opportunity to be of service to students during my 20-some years of employment. I have so many fond memories that it is difficult to list just one. MECC has provided me with the ability to grow socially and professionally. It has instilled in me the value of education and the importance of seeing that I and my children receive college degrees. This value carried forward into my past positions and current position in the financial aid office at MECC. 112

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y best experience at MECC was the life-changing role it has played in my personal and professional life for over 20 years. . .


The first major change I saw in MECC was growth of the college from 2 to 5 buildings, and secondly, changes in automation of processes from paper to computer (some good and some not so good). My favorite memory? In the spring of 1984 I was nominated for the Outstanding Secretarial Science Student award which was to be announced during the graduation ceremony. It was an honor being nominated and part of the process of selecting the recipient was to have a personal interview with a committee of representatives from the college and the community. The experience was unforgettable. One of the committee members was Ron Flanary and he made a lasting impression on me. One of his questions was “Della, I see from your portfolio that you worked for Eastman Chemical in the Railroad Department. Can you tell me what TCL is and your experience with TCL?” My mind went blank . . . I asked myself if I had ever heard this terminology . . . if so what was it . . . I couldn’t think of anything . . . so I debated . . . do I make up something or just admit I did not know. I ended up stating something to the effect that if I should know I was sorry that I had to admit I did not recall the term. At that time Ron broke out in a laugh. It turned out that he was a big railroad buff and TCL stood for Tank Car Line. You would think that this would have made me more nervous but it actually helped me relax and the rest of the interview went smoothly. I am pleased to say that I was chosen as the recipient of this award and felt honored to be the recipient. I will never forget Mr. Flanary or the experience I gained from this interview process. – Della Bays

Mid-Decade, and Growth Abounds — The college entered a new year, 1985, on the leading edge of entrepreneurship and progress among community colleges. MECC was firmly grounded as a provider of credits in college transfer programs, health care programs, business and career programs, police science, environmental science and computer science curricula, and mining and industrial technology programs. Additionally, area residents could enroll in off-campus classes and night classes at sites in many communities in the service area, from Gate City to Clintwood to Pound to Rose Hill. For those people who needed special interests, the college offered topical classes in writing, film, music, guitar, dance, women’s concerns, caving, income tax assistance, and many other subjects. A new scholarship came from the Pepsi-Cola Seven-Up Bottling Company of Norton, providing $1,000 toward student tuition costs. President Victor B. Ficker returned from the Virginia General Assembly that February with other good news. The Assembly approved money for a new building, increased faculty pay, and new programs. Planning funds of $116,000 were allocated to design a new learning resources and allied health building to replace the “smallest library in Virginia” and provide better facilities for health care programs. Full funding for the building, Dr. Ficker said, would come in the 1986 budget period.

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“MECC came out very well,” Dr. Ficker said. {He} attributed the success to hard work and a “belief in what we are doing.” . . . “I’ve been assured we will get a high priority in this (building),” Ficker said. (Hollyfield, 1985) A feature story in the Richmond Times described one remarkable success at MECC: St. Charles – It is a hostile place for dreams: the faded trailer that may once have been red, with an old wringer washing machine half full of snow and a green refrigerator, plugged in, on the rickety porch. Inside, under a roof that leaks, are four dimly lit rooms heated by a pot-bellied coal stove. Holes in the corners are stuffed with rags. There is no water since the pipe froze and burst. From the electrical outlet in the kitchen, cords stretch across the ceiling.

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nside, under a roof that leaks, are four dimly lit rooms heated by a potbellied coal stove.

Yet in this place, where even the babies’ few toys are old and worn, there is hope. . . . In it, a smiling young woman wears a blue cap and a gown. The trailer is Naomi Burnette’s home.  “Since I was little, I wanted to be a doctor or a nurse, but since I couldn’t be a doctor, I’d still like to be a nurse,” she said. “I figure if I go and make something out of myself, then my babies will go and do the same.” For Mrs. Burnette and people like her, the only way out of grinding poverty is education and a slender thread of federal aid. Mrs. Burnette dropped out of a licensed practical nursing program in the 12th grade when she lacked the money to buy a medical dictionary and other books.  Last year, though, with the help of a federal basic education grant that pays tuition and books, she earned her high school equivalency diploma through classes at St. Charles Community Center. She is taking biology in hope of getting into a nursing class. The classes at St. Charles are part of the outreach program at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, which offers 150 classes every quarter off campus. “It’s interesting to see the revitalization of the human spirit when people get involved in these classes,” Dr. Ficker said. “Every so often, they do escape the cycle of poverty, and they don’t have to leave the area to do it.” (Blackmore, 1985) 114


Dr. Harry D. Bralley, a native of Wythe County, was hired as Assistant Director of Continuing Education to help out with the growing duties caused by increased class offerings and greater enrollment. Dr. Bralley came to MECC with thirteen years experience in higher education, as a teacher and as Director of Institutional Research at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia. He held a B. A. in political science and an M.A. in history from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in modern British history from the University of South Carolina. Kingsport lecturer and writer Nell Mahoney delivered the keynote speech at the annual Mountain Empire Chapter of Professional Secretaries International on March 15. Her topic was “How to be a Winner.” MECC’s Spring Fling added a new event, the 10-K race. Academic dean John Garmon challenged all comers to outrun him. The premier performance of the Lonesome Pine Players presented “The Odd Couple” in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium on April 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. The cast included a popular group: Ron Flanary as Oscar, Ralph Witt as Felix, Skip Skinner as Vinnie, Ken Elliott as Murray, Mike Gregg as Roy, Frank Kibler as Speed, Gwen Gregg as Gwendolyn, and Becky Sandt as Cecily. Students and interested adults toured France in early June, visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Monte Carlo, and other landmarks. Costs of the trip, including air fare from New York, food, and accommodations, were only $1,000. The summer of 1985 showcased some established events, some new developments, a continuation of beneficial/growth efforts, and a hint of problematic activities at the college. The John Fox, Jr. Festival, held on May 8, once again featured musicians, writers, and scholars supporting the theme of “Our Appalachian Heritage: Its Universal Value.” Poet John Caldwell was the featured speaker. In addition, Academic Dean John Garmon read from his collection of literary works during the Fox Festival. Under the direction of Robert Collier, MECC’s magnet school thrived during that summer, offering “Math, Science, and Man” studies to outstanding area high school students during a three-week session. Delegate Ford Quillen spoke during the enrichment program’s final awards program. MECC’s Foundation launched a campaign to endow an annual Cultural and Humanities Series on the college campus. The series’ goal was to enhance cultural experiences for the college and the community. “The foundation is very excited about the prospect of providing quality entertainment and cultural events at Mountain Empire. . . . We are committed to offering all our programs to the public free of charge,” said Harold Armsey. (MECC News Release, 1985) Indeed, the Foundation set out to raise $50,000 to bring in cultural and humanities events. To help fund the series, MECC won a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy. 115


The first lecture was a highly successful one, as popular author Alex Haley was scheduled to appear on November 21 in the college’s Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium to speak on “Land and its People: The Appalachian Environment—Past, Present, and Future.” Haley’s sensational novel Roots, published in 1974, won the 1977 National Book Award and a special Pulitzer Prize and was later made into a television mini-series. “’We are pleased to have someone of Alex Haley’s international stature to introduce our series,’ said Dr. John Garmon, Project Director.” (Crouch, 1985)

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e are pleased too have someone of Alex Haley’s international stature to introduce our series,” said Dr. John Garmon, Project Director.

MECC had a new micro-computer lab, taught by Carol Noonkester, Assistant Professor of Computer Science. Micro-computers, as they were called in 1985, were very popular on campus. Over 200 students participated in MECC’s annual business contests. Winners in individual contests received certificates form President Victor B. Ficker at the awards ceremony. Also, Dale Jean Johnson, a freshman secretarial science major at MECC, won third place in the Data Processing I event of the Phi Beta Lambda State Leadership Contest in Staunton, Virginia. Ada Vandeventer won the Outstanding PSI Member for 1985. Glenda Wilson had recently taken the position of Executive Secretary to the President. Glenda, a native of the area and a former MECC student herself, helped incoming students.

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We have so many people coming to resume their education late in life, and their main fear is that they won’t be able to study again effectively, that they can’t still learn.

ou can do it, and it can really make a difference in your life.

That is one area where I can be a real help. You can do it, and it can really make a difference in your life.

Whenever I go out into the halls, I make a point to stop and talk with the students, to always smile, and to take time to find out how they’re doing and if there’s anything we can do to help them. – Glenda Wilson (Holyfield, 1985)

The college graduated 242 students in June, the largest number of graduates to date. Dr. Joseph Smiddy, Chancellor of Clinch Valley College, in what he called “his last official act” before retiring, spoke of Cervantes who, while in a dungeon, “saw good in everyone.” Smiddy encouraged students to follow the examples of the Don Quixotes of the world “Such as Madame Curie, Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ, who rose from disadvantaged circumstances to make important contributions to society.” (MECC News Release, 1985) In other news, Mr. Ramond Burgin joined MECC as a theater instructor. A native of Frankford, Kentucky, Mr. Burgin held a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a master of fine arts from Memphis State University. Hugh M. Gale of Savannah, Georgia, joined the faculty as 116


Assistant Professor of Art. Mr. Gale had an extensive career in advertising design and held degrees from Syracuse University in New York and from The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The hiring of these two new faculty members was part of MECC’s emphasis on cultural, historical and artistic studies. Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Gene Schoch (pronounced shock) won a fellowship award from Columbia University in New York to attend a summer workshop. Delegate Ford Quillen addressed graduates at the first summer commencement (August) held at MECC. Quillen congratulated the graduates and challenged them to take advantage of opportunities gained through education. MECC President Victor Ficker praised Delegate Quillen for his support in assuring construction of Dalton-Cantrell Hall. “We would not be in this building tonight, construction would never have been completed, had it not been for Ford Quillen,” Ficker noted. (MECC News Release, 1985) The college offered a series of scholarships for students needing financial support. Nalco Chemical Company of Oak Brook, Illinois, endowed a full scholarship for a student who demonstrated educational potential and financial need. MECC’s Foundation managed several scholarships, including the Orby Cantrell Memorial Scholarship, the Thomas B. and Lillian Fugate Memorial Scholarship, the Don McCollum Memorial Scholarship, the Harry Meador Memorial Scholarship, Pepsi-Cola Scholarship, the John D. and Ethel M. Broadwater Scholarship, and other restricted scholarships provided by Grace Davis and Gibson Explosives. In the environmental science program, eligible students could apply for the Penn Virginia Powell River Project Scholarships. These scholarships provided one-quarter tuition for students majoring in environmental science. Students wishing to receive job training could apply to receive aid from Job Training Partnership of America (JTPA), a federally funded program providing free tuition, books and supplies to eligible students age 16 or older. Training was available in small appliance repair, small engine repair, cash register operation, and basic bookkeeping and basic computer skills. Several noteworthy developments transpired during the last quarter of 1985 at MECC. Dr. John Garmon, Dean of Academic and Student Services, resigned his position to accept a similar position at a college in Nevada. In October, Dr. Linda Kilgore, who had previously served on the College Foundation and as Director of Planning and Development, accepted the position as Dean of Academic and Student Services. Dr. Kilgore had served as acting dean for a month before her hiring. In October, the sweet taste of donuts, the smell of hamburgers and French fries, and the need for freshly–prepared foods on campus finally lured students and faculty to MECC’s own food grill, “The Summit.” Several college fundraisers, including basketball games and car washes, had helped fund The Summit. The first official college grill was managed by Tiger Market of Big Stone Gap. The college held its Third Annual Gala Event on October 24 in the newly-opened Summit. After a smorgasbord dinner, attendees moved across the walk to Dalton-Cantrell Hall to view a presentation 117


of “Godspell,” performed by the Lonesome Pine Players, a cast of local high school and college students. The play was directed by Jim Daugherty and Susan Moon. Cast members included Karen Tiller, Amy Witt, Melissa Moon, Todd Stone, Stan Zirkle, Joey Piper, Steve Humbert, and Chris Burnett. Teresa Hall accompanied musical numbers at the piano. Once again, the college held its annual Home Crafts Day in October—on the 19th. People came from around the area and from far and distant places. Ms. Edith Wise, a representative for the American Museum of Folk Art in New York City, stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Gary Bumgarner in order to fully appreciate the folk art and many traditions of Appalachia. Halloween dressed in a spooky face at MECC in 1985. PBL, FSA, and SGA sponsored a costume contest and awarded three prizes of $20 each to category winners. Winners were Mrs. Cathy Beason as the Bag Lady, Donnie Falin as The Pirate, and Kathleen Rasnick as The Widow.

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aley spoke about his upbringing, his training as a writer, and the success of his sensational novel, Roots.

The promised visit of Alex Haley occurred on November 21 in a packed Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Over 300 people filled every seat inside the auditorium, and many others crowed the hallways outside. Haley spoke about his upbringing, his training as a writer, and the success of his sensational novel, Roots. He stated that he had not been a good student and had learned much of his craft by writing letters for his friends while serving in the Navy. He entertained the crowd with heart-rending stories of his youth and with anecdotes of his upbringing. Many of his stories related to his ancestors, especially the women, who influenced him. (Faries, 1985) Following Haley’s appearance, Dr. Edward Henson, Professor of History at Clinch Valley College, lectured on how the past events created present character in Appalachia and on how the environment shaped social, economic, and cultural development. Dr. Henson was a visiting professor from Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia. MECC’s Players on the Mountain performed “Our Town” on December 5. The cast featured Jeff Vaughan as the Stage Manager, Steven Humbert and Felicia Bloomer as George and Emily, Becky Davis as Mrs. Gibbs, Don Falin as Dr. Gibbs, Jeanine Kilgore as Mrs. Webb, and Rob Culbertson as Mr. Webb. The Learning Resources Center of MECC held its 13th annual Christmas Cartoon Festival on December 2 through 5. Thousands of pre-schoolers and first-graders attended. The Industrial and Business Technology Division sponsored its “World Here We Come” seminar on December 6. The seminar was designed to help students realize their personal and career goals. 118


Westmoreland Coal Company once again donated $1,000 to MECC’s Foundation to offer employees opportunities to upgrade job skills. Marcia Quesenberry Kibler assumed the position of Coordinator of Planning and Development at MECC in December. Ms. Kibler held a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree from the University of Georgia. She had also worked in management at Quensenberry’s, Inc. of Big Stone Gap. I’ll never forget being in United States History with Bill Carter. Our class was at noon and the guy who sat behind me, Craig Wilson, had a pack of crackers and he opened them. You saw Bill’s hackles rise and he said, “How dare you eat in my class!” Bill made him leave the class. No one ate or drank ill was a real anything in his class again! Bill was a real stickler for the stickler for the rules – you did not come to class late. He locked the door at the beginning of the class time so if you were late you weren’t rules - you did not let in. No one dared be tardy to Carter’s class. – Jane Jones. come to class late.

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To close the year with aplomb, Ms. Martha Rhoton received the Virginia Community College Association “Showcase of Support Staff” award. Martha graduated from King College in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and history. She was a well-liked member of the college’s Learning Resources Center team.

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1986 - Still Growing As 1986 marked the Virginia Community Colleges’ twentieth anniversary, MECC continued to grow and to expand. The college opened the year by announcing that enrollment had reached a new high of 3,017 students and an FTE of 1,350 for Fall Semester 1985. The college offered greater numbers of classes for day and night students on campus and at several off-campus sites. After preliminary plans begun in 1985 for a proposed library and health education building faltered, they resumed with renewed vigor during the following year. The college lecture series featured renowned speakers covering interesting and timely topics. The college hired new, well-qualified faculty to meet educational needs. MECC, it seemed, was answering every community call for education and training opportunities. MECC has provided me the opportunity to grow professionally throughout my career. I have gained invaluable knowledge, attended many professional development workshops and seminars, and have gained much self-confidence during my tenure. I have also met many wonderful people who are my family away from home and I will cherish them forever. I have always had support and encouragement from my two supervisors, which made me gain success in my various positions. I think MECC is the greatest employer in Wise County and has much to offer students, employees, and the communities. I am thankful to have been a part of this institution and hope I have made a difference in many lives.

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Employees I have seen “come and go” either through resignations or retirements have been my fondest memories. Being a people person, I cherish the many friendships I have gained here at MECC and continue to gain.

have many unforgettable events.

I have many unforgettable events. Just to name a few: Years ago I remember working in the Business Office with several ladies (predominately Powell Valley High Vikings) and decorating offices with “Bulldog” and “Viking” paraphernalia on the day of the Appalachia, Powell Valley football games. We always decorated in fun and would get students involved. Another comical event that comes to mind is I used to play jokes on Everett Sadler and he would always come back with one. I rolled his office with toilet tissue one time and tied his chair with ropes, and his payback was to put colored water (yellow) with a Baby Ruth in a potty and set it on my desk. I could go on and on with things we did for fun but we did do our work as well. One more unbelievable thing I did was stand on my desk in the Business Office using a banana as a microphone singing Whitney Houston’s song “I will always love you.” Perry Carroll came running in saying all he could see was legs and wondered who it was. 120


The biggest changes I have witnessed are growth in enrollment, curriculum, and number of employees. I believe the strategic planning process is also a major change which has benefited the college. Every organization should have a mission and a plan to become successful and MECC certainly accomplishes its mission in providing educational opportunities to those in our service region. – Nita Nelson Virginia opened its first two community colleges in 1966. By 1986, the system had grown to 33 campuses at 23 institutions serving 246,000 students in credit and non-credit classes. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed February 1986 as National Community College Month. The theme was “Opportunity with Excellence.” MECC’s growth and expansion reflected the success of Thomas Jefferson’s dream of bringing higher education to all Virginians. Grants supported student costs. Westmoreland Coal Company led grant donors once again with a $1,000 fund to provide training necessary for mining safety and industrial improvements. The Best Products Foundation of Richmond, Virginia, awarded the Dungannon Development Commission $10,000. The grant helped fund education at the Depot. Interest in the cultural lecture series, “Land and its People: The Appalachian Environment, Past, Present, and Future,” spiked with the arrival of noted speakers on campus. Dr. Winifred A. Pizzano, Federal Co-Chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, spoke on the importance of education aimed toward improving health care, transportation, and economic progress in the region. Safe drinking water, sanitary waste disposal, recreational facilities, and better housing were benefits from ARC’s efforts in education, according to Dr. Pizzano. Dr. Richard Blaustein, Head of Appalachian Affairs at East Tennessee State University, spoke in January, emphasizing events having profound effects on the culture and environment of Appalachia. The next speaker in the series, Dr. Richard Wolfe, United Coal Company’s Vice President in Charge of Research, discussed the hope generated in Appalachia due to the funding support of ARC for education. United States Ninth District Congressman Rick Boucher completed the lecture series on Friday, May 9 with the topic “The Future of the Appalachian Environment” in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Boucher told his audience that the future of the Appalachian region was filled with promise. Boucher predicted that nuclear fusion energy would fuel the world’s energy consumption, but, until then, “coal will be the bridge” to link the nation with that energy future. (Barber, 1986) 

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Growth and Success for Annual Events — As MECC thrived, it hired new personnel to meet the needs of more students in more classes. Dr. Chuks Ogbonnaya joined the faculty for Winter Quarter 1986 as the new assistant professor of environmental science. Dr. Ogbonnaya arrived from Nebraska, where he had completed a master’s degree in crop physiology and a doctorate in entomology in host plant resistance from Northwest Missouri State University. Catherine McKnight joined the nursing faculty at MECC in January. She held a master’s degree in nursing from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Hope Hancock came to MECC in January 1986 as special services director/counselor. She had earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from The University of Virginia and a master’s degree in student personnel and counseling from Virginia Tech. Hancock had also worked as special services guidance coordinator at Clinch Valley College for three years. Lee Mumpower became the college’s new coordinator of Educational Talent Search in March. Mumpower arrived from Wytheville Community College where he had served as director of the Job Training Partnership Act Program. He held a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in government from William and Mary College in Williamsburg. As a result of MECC’s growth, its service area reaped many benefits. Dr. Victor Ficker reported to the College Board that the college payroll had grown to approximately $3 million annually and that financial aid to MECC’s students—not counting veterans—totaled about $1.2 million a year. That year the college employed 105 full-time personnel and another 100 part-time people. While federal funds to the college decreased slightly, state funds and financial aid grants actually increased. In other college developments, MECC held its annual business contests in March. High school students from the area won many awards for excellence in business education. Also, the college’s drama group, Players on the Mountain, presented Neil Simon’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Good Doctor” during March 1986 and followed that play with a presentation of Inherit the Wind during May. “The Good Doctor” played as a dinner theater at the Ramada Inn in Duffield on May 3. Leading actors included Edwina Allen, Felicia Bloomer, Rene Burney, Don Falin, Rick Gladden, Jeanine Kilgore, Terri Light, Cathy Milam, Lester Russell, and Bill Ward. Inherit the Wind enjoyed a successful run from May 15 through 18 in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Principal roles were performed by Jeff Vaughn, Don Falin, Edwina Allen, Frank Kibler, Ron Flanary, Glen “Skip” Skinner, Rob Culbertson, and David Collins.

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Once again, MECC held a Spring Fling for students and college personnel and its annual John Fox Festival. On May 1, a carnival atmosphere prevailed over the campus. Activities included fortune telling, tricycle racing, and scavenger hunting. Ms. Martha Rhoton was the featured “Madame Clairvoyant” as she read fortunes for hundreds of avid fans. The Fox Festival occurred on May 14. Klell Napps read from his works and told several tales. Poet Jim Wayne Miller read from his poems. Professor of English at Clinch Valley College Dr. Richard Peake spoke on the contributions of John Fox to the Appalachian region. In a related note, this was the last year that Professor Carolyn Rogers directed the John Fox, Jr. Festival, as she retired in June after 14 years service at MECC. Dr. Rogers was a charter member of the faculty. U. S. Senator Paul Trible spoke to more than 300 graduates at MECC’s commencement on June 14. Senator Trible told the graduates and the large crowd of family and friends, “ . . . let us together pledge that we will give of ourselves, make the most of our lives, and serve those who need our help.” (Hollyfield, Trible Challenges MECC Grads, 1986) Notable graduates included a mother and son, Kathleen Rasnick in secretarial science and Michael Rasnick in environmental science. MECC held a Magnet School under the direction of Mr. Robert Collier during the summer of 1986. Approximately 60 high school students and teachers attended the summer session, which spanned from July 7 through August 1. Magnet School participants visited the NASA Research Center in Greenbank, West Virginia, the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, and The Institute of Marine Science at the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. Several highly recognized scientists and educators spoke to the group, including Dr. Mark Littmann, author of Comet Halley: Once in a Lifetime. In other summer programs, the Job Training Partnership Act of America (JTPA) funded electricity/ small appliance repair classes at MECC, and MECC’s environmental science students toured wastewater plants in the area in preparation for their studies in the widely successful WaterWastewater program at the college.

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The World According to Janet Lester (circa 1986) — She is “an eighties woman with a fifties softness and femininity” reminiscent of, say, Harriet Nelson. Her professional outlook and her personal life may seem contradictory to some. The sign on her bookshelf reads “The best man for a job is a woman.” Yet at home she is a devoted wife to her husband Harold and a loving mother to her three children, Lisa, Mark, and Amber. Janet Lester is a “person of gentle words, effective action, and fascinating interests. At Mountain Empire Community College she’s Title III Project Director and hrough the Title administers the WINS Program (Women in Need of Skills). For area attorneys, she’s a durable resource in cases where handwriting III and WINS analysis or identification is a factor.” programs, Janet

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works to help women aspire to better lives.

Through the Title III and WINS programs, Janet works to help women aspire to better lives. WINS is a sex-equity grant through the Carl Perkins Act to help promote equal pay for equal jobs for women who perform “traditional men’s work.” “Many women can now look at jobs according to the skills involved, not having to judge them in terms of whether or not this is ‘women’s work, and that is part of what we encourage,’ she maintains.” Janet grew up in Dickenson County, a man’s world, and she knew her place. Opportunities opened for her brother, but she was encouraged to become a teacher or a nurse, two appropriate careers for girls. “Not many girls from my graduating class in Clintwood went to college.” Janet had a hunger for books and reading, and her confidence grew too. “Early in our marriage, I looked to my husband for guidance on everything, and would never think of making a decision without his advice. “When I decided to take the Handwriting Analysis course work, a hefty investment in time and money, I didn’t tell anyone for a while, till I was certain I could do the course justice.” “Once people start believing in themselves, start to dream, start to branch out and use school as a tool toward a better life instead of a means to an end, and combine that with hard work, there’s just no stopping them.” She laughs. Janet is truly a woman for all seasons. (Holyfield, Janet Lester: Her Changing World, 1986)

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MECC’s history includes a long list of honest and helpful people like Mrs. Lester, but it also had its occasional issues. In 1985, college administrators requested state auditors to look into irregularities in payroll records for part-time (adjunct) faculty. Soon thereafter state police investigator Don Lyons opened an investigation into possible payroll check fraud at the college. By July of ‘85, Special Agent Carroll Delp of the state police’s Wytheville office reported that the investigation was near completion. The probe resulted in two charges against college personnel, one for grand larceny and the other for embezzlement. In April of 1986, the case was settled when the accused employees admitted guilt in Circuit Court and agreed to pay restitution. Both employees resigned from their positions at MECC, and the case was closed.

Summer Successes and Dungannon Miracles — MECC prospered throughout the summer of ’86, continuing its ambitious scheduling of classes and its special programs in mining training, the ever-popular “Man and His Environment,” and its Magnet School for high school seniors. In particular, the Dungannon Depot project was receiving state and national recognition as a unique and innovative effort toward educating women. Teri Vautrin, crusader for the Depot, had appeared before the State Board for Community Colleges in 1985, describing the situations of women who attended classes at Dugannon. Her speech brought the Board members to tears. Later that year, Vautrin was invited to speak before the House Select Committee on Hunger. As a result of her efforts, a bill to change the food stamp law was introduced in the House of Representatives. In July-August 1986, news broke that Vautrin had received honorable mention for Glamour magazine’s “Top Ten College Women for ’86.” The mother of two daughters exclaimed, “Isn’t that strange? Little feminist me!” Vautrin received an associate’s degree in education in June 1986, along with seven other Dungannon women who received degrees. Two others received certificates. (Chamberlain, 1986)

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n July-August 1986, news broke that Vautrin had received honorable mention for Glamour magazine’s “Top Ten College Women for ‘86.”

A month later, WQED TV, a PBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, announced that on September 17, 1986, the station would broadcast a documentary on successful programs battling illiteracy across the nation. The nationally televised program featured MECC graduate Edna Compton, a Dungannon graduate who had previously completed an eighth-grade education before enrolling in MECC classes. Vicki Cherney, Associate Producer at WQED, said, “We feel that the Dungannon segment is a real asset to the completed film.” (MECC News Release, 1986)

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New Faces, New Programs, More Activities — MECC added several new faculty members to open Fall Quarter 1986. Mr. Louis Collier returned as Coordinator of Placement Services in January. Mr. Collier had worked at Westmoreland Coal Company for several years. By fall term Mr. Collier had student placement in full operational order, including a new co-op program. He stated that he hoped to “get a cooperative education program initiated. Presently we have 20-25 now involved in a co-op program, so there is room for an increase.” Ms. Roberta “Bobby” Kelley joined the Division of Mining Technology as instructor of environmental science. Bobbie held a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Oregon State University and a Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Patricia Brown came to MECC from Mexia, Texas, where she had earned a Master of Arts and Doctor of Education from East Texas State University. Dr. Brown y father taught said she “liked [the mountains] very much. Everyone is friendly, me if you’re anxious to make you welcome.” She added, “I have an insatiable appetite for learning. My father taught me if you’re persistent and persistent and put your mind to it, you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

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can do anything.

Arriving at about the same time, Mr. David Patterson joined MECC’s math faculty as an instructor. David held a Bachelor of Science in math from Madison College and a Master of Arts degree from Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee. Pat Brown and I came to MECC the same year, 1986. Office space was limited, and we were assigned the same small office. When we introduced ourselves at first meeting, I told everyone that Pat and I had been together only a few days and we already had 15 children. (Pat had nine and I had six.) – David Patterson Also arriving in August, Mr. Roger Greene joined the faculty as an instructor of electronics. Mr. Greene had earned a Bachelor of Science degree from East Tennessee State University in the electronics field. Mr. Greene had previous experience in the United States Navy and through providing technical support to engineering staff and customers at ITT. Fall Quarter 1986 featured new faces and a flurry of special activities on campus. Ms. Billie Lynch and Mr. Harold Armsey won appointments as chairman and vice-chairman respectively of MECC’s College Board. Ms. Lynch served as Scott County Administrator. She had been on MECC’s Board for eight years and had been the vice-chairman during her 1986 term. Mr. Armsey was general manager of Old Dominion Power Company in Norton and was past president of the MECC Educational Foundation Board. The 15th annual Home Crafts Day, held on October 18, featured home cooking and old time bluegrass music. Lead entertainers included Reedy Creek from Kingsport, the Peters Band from 126


Lee County and the Bluegrass Uprising from Letcher, Kentucky. Also appearing were the Home Folks and Charlie Mack Dougherty and the Cumberland Mountain Band from Scott County, fiddlers Chester Wilson, Scott Boatright and Hubert Addington, and Hobart Crabtree and the Lonesome Cove String Band. MECC’s Tutor Training Program won the Excellence in Education Award from Virginia Tech’s College of Education in the fall of ‘86. The program was one of only 29 programs selected out of 130 applicants for the award. The Division of Continuing Education at MECC had worked closely with local volunteer organizations since the summer of 1985 to address the problems of illiteracy in the area. Support for the Tutor Training Program came from the Dungannon Development Commission’s project “Read” and Lee County’s project “Read to Lead.” John. B. Dalton bookstores helped fund the programs. The Southwest Virginia Management Association honored its charter members November 7 at a dinner meeting at the college. Honored charter members included Dr. George Vaughan, first president of MECC, Gary Bumgarner of MECC’s business faculty, Ben Allen of Southwest Oil Company, Harold Armsey of Old Dominion Power Company, and W. F. McElroy of Sovran Bank. The college’s Foundation received donations from new sources in 1986. Stafford Communications of Jonesborough, Tennessee, donated educational funds for a student attending MECC’s business advertising and/or communications classes. Maryrhea Mullins Morelock of Lexington, Kentucky, established a scholarship honoring her parents, Rhea and Mary Seaton Mullins, who lived in the Southwest Virginia area. Ms. Morelock gave $10,000 to support educational costs for students with a B average hoping to obtain higher education and planning to remain in the area. MECC’s fourth annual benefit Gala, “Step out and Swing,” occurred on October 23, in Dalton-Cantrell Hall. The theme of the program was 1940s jazz/swing music. A group of six area musicians—Jazz Virginia—entertained the crowd. Senator Paul Trible opened the Gala festivities with welcome and brief comments. At that time, the Foundation maintained 26 scholarships for students, some of which were fully endowed.

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ECC’s fourth annual benefit Gala, “Step out and Swing,” occurred on October 23, in DaltonCantrell Hall.

Three highly successful professionals appeared in special programs at MECC in October and November. The college closed out October on the 31st by featuring Ms. Helen Sherwood, regional administrator for the Women’s Bureau of the U. S. Department of Labor, as keynote speaker of the vocational sex equity forum: “It’s not a Sugar and Spice World Out There.” The forum focused on sex bias in the workplace, non-traditional careers for women, and other gender issues. Pulitzer Prize winning poet Henry Taylor read from his works on November 18 at 12:15 p.m. in MECC’s Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Taylor grew up in Loudoun County and was currently teaching at American University. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection “The Flying Change.”

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On November 21, NBC News “Today” newscaster John Palmer spoke in MECC’s Cultural Series. A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, Palmer addressed news-worthy topics of the time, including the U. S. arms deal with Iran. Palmer said the White House failed to gauge the sense of outrage the United States felt about dealing with Iran because of Iran’s history of working with terrorism. President Ronald Reagan, Palmer noted, should admit his mistake. Another widely respected professional, Michael T. Heenan, conducted a seminar on enforcement by MSHA, regulatory practices, minimizing operator liability, and civil penalties on November 8 at the Holiday Inn in Norton. MECC offered the seminar through the Division of Mining Technology. Mr. Heenan was a specialist in health and safety issues and litigation

John Palmer

Glamour — Once again in ’86 MECC was invited to demonstrate its beauty and brains. Glamour Magazine invited women from the college to participate in the magazine’s 1987 Top Ten College Women Competition. Winners would be selected based upon their achievements in academic studies and/ or extracurricular activities on and off campus. Girls around campus were encouraged by the fact that Ms. Teri Vautrin had won honorable mention in Glamour’s 1985 competition. The college closed the year with two annual favorites: Mountain Empire’s Players on the Mountain presented a festival of short plays on the nights of December 4 – 7 in Dalton-Cantrell auditorium, and the Learning Resources Center at MECC presented its cartoon festival in the lecture room of Godwin Hall.

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In 1986 I had been working in the president’s office for two years. Each year, Dr. Ficker attended a president’s meeting in Richmond, and that meeting happened at the same time as a secretary’s workshop in Richmond. Since I had never attended the workshop, Dr. Ficker told me I was going. I had never flown. Even though I had a terrible fear of flying, I went along with Dr. Ficker to Richmond and attended the workshop, and I enjoyed the trip. On the way back from Richmond, however, we had to fly to Charlotte and from there to Tri Cities. In Charlotte, Dr. Ficker said, “Glenda, I have to tell you something I didn’t tell you before because I knew you would not have come. From here to Tri Cities we’ll be on a r. Ficker forced much smaller plane.”

me to grow professionally. He made me get out of my comfort zone.

Dr. Ficker forced me to grow professionally. He made me get out of my comfort zone. After that trip, I flew several more times with Linda Carty to professional meetings. – Glenda Wilson 128


1987: A Year of Growth, Awards, Expansion, and Momentous Events Kibler Writes Grants: Marcia Quesenberry Kibler, Coordinator of Planning and Development at MECC, took over new responsibilities as she entered her second year at the college. She had not planned to write grants, but she quickly learned and helped the college receive almost $750,000 in contributions during the year. A native of Wise County who had previous experience with the county Chamber of Commerce, Kibler realized the educational needs of the area and understood how to argue for their support. “There is really no secret formula to writing,” Kibler explained. “We just pick the ones we think the community and the students need the most. The next thing we do is prove we need the money.” (Still, 1987) Among the grants MECC received were sex-equity grants, one of which helped single parents and displaced homemakers learn marketable skills. These grants were under the WINS program at the college. Another sex-equity grant was the TEEN project, which helped teenage mothers go back to school. “Those are the ones I am most proud of because they are the ones that really make a difference,” Kibler said. (Still, 1987) MECC secured several donations during 1987: From the Knights of Columbus Council 7653 of Norton, and from The Pepsi Cola Bottling Company, which had made annual contributions for several years. In July the Big Stone Gap Lions Club presented MECC’s Foundation with a check for $1,000. Also, Delegate Ford Quillen of Scott County sponsored a state budget amendment that provided $282,800 for the college’s summer Magnet School. MECC received a $3,000 grant from Consolidation Coal Company to support students and to fund other needs in the technology division. Daniel E. French, a Consolidation Coal representative, presented the check to Dr. Victor Ficker. Boddie Noell Enterprises (Hardee’s) gave $300 to the college. The college shared a $650,000 sex-equity grant with twenty other colleges to expand options for women in vocational education. Representative Rick Boucher helped MECC renew its second year Student Support GAIN program with an award of $90,216. In August, the college received a $10,000 donation from the C. Bascom Slemp Foundation.

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Ficker Wins Beamer Award — For his leadership and support of vocational education, Dr. Victor B. Ficker won the fifth annual Rufus W. Beamer Award. “’His accomplishments at is accomplishments Mountain Empire Community College are unparalleled for rural at Mountain community colleges in our country,’ said Southside Community College President John Cavan, who nominated Ficker for the Empire Community College are unparalleled award.” (MECC News Release, 1987)

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for rural community colleges in our country.

Hundreds of Southwest Virginians filled the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium to hear several speakers praise Dr. Ficker for his

accomplishments. Most accolades focused on the college president’s character as a caring, compassionate, and determined leader who aimed at bringing higher education to all Southwest Virginians. Dr. Ficker, they said, brought new programs, formed beneficial partnerships, expanded off-campus curricula, and enrolled people who thought they never had a chance in higher education. Sister Theresa Martin of St. Charles Community Center said, “Ficker’s off-campus program reaches the poorest people in the most secluded hollows. . . . Before MECC helped them, these people were fighting for survival, battling discouragement, leading ‘shattered lives’ and fighting hopelessness. . . . [He] is a blessing to the community.” (Fields, 1987) “I don’t know if you want to hear this,” [Ficker said.] “But we haven’t begun to serve all the people yet. We’re going to do something about it.” (Fields, 1987) Indeed, MECC’s enrollment peaked again during the Winter Quarter, to about 1,200. Fall quarters usually have higher enrollments and Fall Quarter 1986 saw more than 1,500 FTEs at the college. Those increased enrollments resulted in MECC requesting 10 new positions across the campus. The college had the second largest off-campus program in the VCCS. Along with growth and expansion, including plans for a new allied health building, MECC was beginning another self-study for SACS accreditation under the direction of Ms. Pat Miller. Part of the self-study aimed at determining the need for more space in the future. 130


Writing, Literacy, and Drama — One highly successful course at MECC was “Writing Across the Disciplines,” taught by Mr. Walt Holden. The class had enjoyed eight years of heightened interest. Public school teachers from Dickenson, Lee, Scott, and Wise Counties and the City of Norton participated in the Monday evening sessions led by Holden. Goals were to improve students’ writing skills from kindergarten to college. Ms. Rhoda Kyle, Director of MECC’s Literacy Initiative (PRIDE), worked with adult learners in the area. She was assisted by Faye Nickels, Coordinator of the Literacy Initiative at MECC and Melinda Carson of the Lonesome Pine Regional Library. The literacy program aimed to provide one-on-one tutoring to adults in order to improve reading skills toward completing GED diplomas, gaining job skills, and completing applications and employment-related tests. As the program developed through the summer, it joined in on one of the largest teleconference events ever held, a two and one-half hour program broadcast to 1,000 local sites across America. The program, “Literacy, Your Community and its Workforce,” featured noted commentators such as Hugh Downs of 20/20, James E. Duffy of ABC Television network, Nebraska Governor Kay Orr, and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. MECC was one of several colleges to take initiative toward eliminating illiteracy in its service area. Rhoda Kyle led a plan to set up walk-in sites staffed with trained personnel to work with people who wanted to learn to read. One of my first goals at MECC came when I served on the Task Force for Remediation. We set mandatory testing and mandatory placement standards for the college, using the Compass College Placement Tests. MECC now has schedules and programs with flags on classes to ensure placement. kills improvement Students must demonstrate proficiency in numerical and classes take students verbal skills to enter classes calling for those skill levels. Skills improvement classes take students who need math who need math and and English upgrading to where they need to be. Our English upgrading to work has led to a very successful developmental studies where they need to be. program. – Rhoda Kyle/Bliese

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The college continued to bring outstanding literacy lecturers on campus under the Cultural and Humanities series during the spring of 1987. The series explored the works of four Virginia writers: Mary Lee Settle, Ellen Glasgow, William Styron, and Russell Baker. The purpose of the series was to discuss issues of concern to citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Under the title “Voices from Virginia,” the lecture series opened on Thursday, April 9, with noted author Mary Lee Settle speaking about the research and writing of and reading from her Beulah quintet. The second lecture in the series featured Ms. Carolyn Reynolds, Assistant Professor of English at MECC, discussing Ellen Glasgow’s novel Barren Ground on April 16. On April 30, Dr. Richard Peake, Professor of English at Clinch Valley College, spoke on Mary Lee Settle’s novel The Killing Ground. 131


On May 14, Dr. Alan Weltzien, Assistant Professor of English at Ferrum College, delivered the fourth lecture in the series on William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. The “Voices from Virginia” lectures for 1987 concluded on May 28 with Dr. Grace Edwards, Associate Professor of English at Radford University, speaking on Russell Baker’s Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, Growing Up. Baker’s work tells the story of a boy growing up between the two world wars in the mountains of Virginia, then in New Jersey, and finally in Baltimore. Large crowds from the college and community attended the four lectures. During 1987, MECC enjoyed a thriving theatre interest. Players on the Mountain consisted of an unusually talented group of actors. During February the group reprised its performance of three one-act plays at a dinner theater production at the Ramada Inn in Duffield. In March and April, Ron Flanary and Frank Kibler starred in Greater Tuna, once again as a dinner theater performance in Duffield’s Ramada Inn. The play returned on April 23 by popular demand because many people did not see the earlier performances. MECC’s assistant professor of theater/drama, Mr. Ramond Burgin, taught a three-credit course, Seminar and Project in Outdoor Drama, as a part of MECC’s partnership with Lonesome Pine Drama’s summer production of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Included on Flanary in that year’s large cast of actors were Hobart Crabtree, Jonathan Mears, and Frank Judy Paranthaman, Mark Mears, Darrel Musick, Holli Mears, Bob Beard, Kibler starred in Jeanine Kilgore, Jack Ramsey, and Jack McClanahan.

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Greater Tuna.

With heightened interest in drama peaking, Roadside Theater performed “South of the Mountain,” a dramatic musical, at the college on April 25. Ron Short of Big Stone Gap wrote the musical score and the script of the play, which traces a mountain family through two generations of change as the world alters around them. Theater was thriving. MECC’s Players on the Mountain began tryouts and rehearsals for “Dark of the Moon” in April. The play opened on May 14 and ran through May 17. The Spring Arts and Crafts Festival, sponsored by MECC and Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts, Inc. was held on the weekend of May 2 and 3. The show’s purpose was to offer local artists and craftspeople opportunities to display and sell their works to the public. Dr. Carl Ross, Professor of History at Appalachian State University, spoke to a large crowd during the annual John Fox, Jr. Festival held on May 27 in the Dalton-Cantrell auditorium. As part of the morning program, Ron Short, Tom Bledsoe, and Angie DeBord shared tales and music from their works. After the morning session, speakers, performers, and guests gathered for a 12:30 luncheon at the Fox House in Big Stone Gap.

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Graduation Numbers High Again and College Hires More Personnel

Congressman Rick Boucher spoke to 215 graduates at MECC’s 1987 graduation commencement, held on June 13. In a change of venue, the ceremony was held on the parking lot of DaltonCantrell Hall, with a full view of beautiful mountain scenery in the background. Representative Boucher told graduates that the building would stand empty except for federal financial assistance. He pointed out that 80 percent of MECC’s students receive financial aid. Several instructors and students received awards. Fran Chadwell was recognized by her students for her outstanding efforts in helping them earn degrees. Receiving the Outstanding Business Student award was Sharon Parker of Big Stone gap. At the age of 70, Ms. Lillian Hathaway of the Dot section of Lee County earned her associate’s degree in general studies. As old faces departed from MECC, new faces arrived. After 14 years of service, Peggy Beverly and Frank Pleasant ended an era at the college by retiring. Peggy had worked as office manager of admissions and Frank was one of the most recognizable faces around campus as supervisor of buildings and grounds. In a reception on the college campus, Peggy noted, “The college has grown tremendously since its early days. There were approximately 600 students during those days, no water and plenty of mud.” (MECC News Release, 1987)

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fter 14 years of service, Peggy Beverly and Frank Pleasant ended an era at the college by retiring.

Mr. Pleasant commented, “I have enjoyed the college. . . . I’ve got too much at stake here to walk away and not come back.” (MECC News Release, 1987) MECC announced job position openings for a building construction manager, chairman of Arts and Sciences Division, chairman of Business Technology Division, chairman of Mining and Industrial Technologies Division, a business management/computer science instructor, English instructor, and project director, Adult Literacy Program to be filled for the coming year. One of the first new hires was Sharon Fisher Barrett, for the position of Coordinator of Planning and Development. Dr. Barrett held a doctorate in education from East Tennessee State University. She had previous experience in Johnson City, Tennessee, public schools, East Tennessee State University, Southern West Virginia Community College, and Utah State University. She assumed responsibilities for institutional planning, seeking external funding, and supervising public information. Katie Yates joined the college staff as director of the college’s PRIDE project. She had worked for six years as a part-time employee with the project. In August, Alice Harrington came to MECC as assistant professor of art. She had previously taught at Illinois College and at the University of Central Arkansas. She held a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Harrington said she hoped the arts program at MECC grew. In September, MECC hired Martha Perkins as Academic Skills Coordinator for the Student Support GAIN program. Miss Perkins held bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Appalachian State University in English. Allen Duffield arrived in December to become the Coordinator of Career Planning and Placement after Louis Collier accepted his new position as Chairman of Mining and 133


Industrial Technology. Mr. Duffield held a bachelor’s degree in psychology from ETSU and a master’s degree in management from Lesley College. Congressman Rick Boucher had been right to cite MECC’s Financial Aid Office for playing a significant role in supporting student enrollment. Indeed, the college’s financial aid efforts led most other colleges in technology and in gaining benefits. An important part of financial aid was a new Federal Needs Analysis System, unique to MECC. Assistant Financial Aid Officer Cheryl Richardson played an important role in implementing the system at MECC. People will remember Cheryl for her work and dedication at the college. In April a task force subcommittee of the VCCS, chaired by Dr. Don Puyear, Deputy Chancellor for Special Projects, recognized MECC for having an exemplary financial aid program. Dr. Puyear praised the college’s financial aid staff for its hard work and service to high school seniors and to counselors and for its unselfish assistance to students with applications for aid. In addition, MECC received an increase in funding from the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Financial Assistance in the spring of 1987. The college received $48,382 in Supplemental Education Opportunities Grant, a 34 percent increase over 86-87 funding, and $95,439 in college work-study program funding. Pell Grant funding was expected to exceed $2 million. Also, the state chipped in $68,575 for scholarship assistance. Perry Carroll said, “This means we will be able to give some students better awards than in previous years and be able to assist more students.” (MECC News Release, 1987)

Stronger Ties — MECC and Clinch Valley College signed a joint-degree agreement in April to improve articulation between the two institutions. The agreement allowed MECC students in accounting and business management to transfer up to two years of credit to Clinch Valley College toward earning a fouryear degree. Also, Dr. Ficker signed articulation agreements with high schools in Wise, Scott and Lee Counties and the City of Norton to provide credits for students enrolled in courses teaching skills related to those taught in specified college classes. These agreement documents replaced informal arrangements which existed in the past as part of dual credit. MECC expanded its dual credit program to include classes in refrigeration, drafting and design, electronics, mining technology, secretarial science, stenography, typist-data entry, welding, and word processing. In efforts to offer opportunities to all people within its service area, MECC continued an educational program at Wise County Correctional Unit in Coeburn. A similar program had been offered earlier, and this new program began again in 1986 with help from a grant from the Catholic Church. The college expected to help prison inmates rehabilitate and learn skills for re-entering society by making changes in their lives. I was on a visit at Coeburn’s Camp 18 with Helen Lewis and Cheryl Richardson. We were in the downstairs instructional area which was also the prison library. 134


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e received a call from the guards to “clear the area.”

That room is located beyond the prison recreation area and the showers. We received a call from the guards to “clear the area.” We left immediately, but while we were walking out, there were naked prisoners along the wall taking showers. When I returned to the college I told Harry Bralley, “From now on the prison job is yours!”

When Linda Kilgore went to Camp 18 with us, she couldn’t understand why she had to leave her handbag upstairs. One of our adjunct English instructors wanted to bring prisoners to the campus library. – Sue Ella Boatright-Wells

Expansion into Dickenson County — Since its opening in 1972, Mountain Empire Community college had shared Dickenson County with Southwest Virginia Community College. In 1987, Dr. Ficker and Dr. Charles King of SVCC joined efforts to open a college facility in Dickenson County. They solicited proposals from architectural firms to study the feasibility of establishing the facility. The project was recommended at the state level by Delegate Jim Robinson of Wise and supported by Governor Gerald Baliles. By June 17, Dr. Ficker reported to MECC’s Board that the State Board of Community Colleges had approved funding for the facility and had awarded a contract to David Leonard and Associates of Kingsport for a pre-planning feasibility report. Dr. Ficker noted that MECC could begin operation in Dickenson County as early as the 1989 – 1990 academic year. By August 1987, MECC was awaiting a preplanning report prepared by David Leonard and Associates of Kingsport, Tennessee. One purpose of the report was to list possible sites for locating a campus in Dickenson County. Because there was no money available for purchasing a site, President Ficker hoped one of the mining companies in the area would donate land. Dominion Bank had offered 20 acres of Happy Valley Golf Course for the construction, according to Ficker. The building, if completed, would cost between $4 and $5 million. Estimates indicated the site would employ between 75-100 people when in full operation and should enroll around 1,000 students. The next step was to present the planning study to the State Board of Community Colleges for funding of the project, which Ficker anticipated by December when Governor Baliles was expected to announce his budget proposals. The General Assembly would take action on the proposal in its January-February session. If the project did not make the governor’s budget, it could still gain passage through the amendment process. “If the government wants it, it will be,” Ficker said. (Mays, 1987) The Dickenson project was not to be, as events later in 1987 overshadowed the project. Victor Ficker would soon resign as president and the proposed site lost impetus. 135


College Efforts Grow — Career fairs had become an important part of MECC’s aids to students during the 80s. Fifty students from MECC joined students from other colleges in the area attending a career fair at the Holiday Inn in Bristol on March 4, 1987. Representatives from approximately 40 companies hosted career information tables, accepted student resumes, and held job interviews. It was a successful day for students all around. In other news around the college during this eventful year, the Mountain Empire Chapter of Professional Secretaries International presented its annual professional development seminar, “Pride through Professionalism,” on Friday, April 24, in the Dalton-Cantrell auditorium. Notable speakers were Dr. Harold Whitmore from ETSU and Mr. Gary Bumgarner from MECC. The college hosted the Accreditation Council for Accountancy’s nationwide examinations in accountancy and federal taxation. It offered a computer literacy class at its facility in Duffield. The MECC Chapter of Professional Secretaries installed new officers. They were: Ada Vandeventer, President; Bobbie Spivey, Vice President; Lisa Ramey, Secretary; and Janet Hampton, Treasurer. Phi Theta Kappa installed new officers at a meeting in the Bonanza Steak House in Big Stone Gap.

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everal hundred

Several hundred students from eleven high schools in MECC’s service students from region attended the college’s annual business contests. The college opened its new micro-computer lab, offering hands-on experience to eleven high schools students. MECC students Walter Crawford and Sandra Lowe received in MECC’s service awards during the Virginia Chapter Phi Beta Lambda State Leadership region attended the Conference. Crawford won second place in Data Processing I and college’s annual Sandra Lowe placed third in business law. Under the tutelage of Mr. Ed Banner, Associate Professor of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, business contests. two Students, Earl Seiber and Eddie Presley, turned their climate control degrees into a profitable business. Together they opened Seiber Electric Service, a refrigeration and heat pump company. Meanwhile, the criminal justice program at the college was thriving. The college offered security guard classes in its night programs; fourteen police officers graduated from its law enforcement program; and the college began a new student organization, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, a criminal justice society, with Cindy Mongle as its sponsor. During the summer of ’87, Chris Allgyer directed MECC’s highly successful governor’s Magnet School. Chris’s colleague, Jim Durham, continued his popular “Man and His Environment” class for area school teachers. Roy Powers led students into area caves as part of his spelunking class, “Learning to Live with Caves.” At the end of the first year someone invited me to a birthday party at Chris Allgyer’s, on my birthday, June 4, and impressed me with their friendliness. At the party I discovered that June 4 was also Chris’ birthday, and the party was for him. I realized that on my 16th birthday, when I was getting my driver’s license, Chris was just learning to breathe. – David Patterson 136


Three new division chairmen were hired to replace retiring personnel. Louis Collier moved from his previous position as Coordinator of Career Planning and Placement to Chairman of the Mining and Industrial Technology Division. Mr. Collier held degrees from Lincoln Memorial University and East Tennessee State University. Dr. Charles Bunting replaced Mr. Ben Wheless as Chairman of the Arts and Sciences Division. Dr. Bunting held a doctorate in modern American literature from the University of Southern Mississippi. Ben Wheless moved from chairman to full-time teacher of economics at MECC. David Johnson became MECC’s new Chairman of the Business Division in August. He had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University. In another change at the college, Dr. Norman Scott arrived to fill the position of Dean of Academic and Student Services, vacated when Dr. Linda Kilgore resigned earlier that summer. Scott had previously served as Chairman of the Occupational and Technical Division at Patrick Henry Community College. He had earned a master’s in Industrial Technology from ETSU and a doctorate in Vocational Education Vocation Education Administration from Virginia Tech. Upon coming to MECC, Scott stated, “Mountain Empire Community College has an excellent reputation throughout the state for being highly student and service oriented.” (MECC News Release, 1987) I joined the staff at MECC in August 1987 and left September 1994 (7 years). My most unique experience with MECC was also my first. This was the interview process for the position, Dean of Academic and Student Services. I received a telephone call from Carolyn Helms, who was coordinating the interviews, and she asked me if I could come to the college the next week. I stated that I had committed myself to taking boys to Boy Scout Camp that week and asked if I could come the following week. She stated in no uncertain terms that the college could not wait and, if I wanted the interview, I had best come when she scheduled me. Well, I wanted the interview so I agreed to an interview date during Boy Scout Camp. When I packed for Scout Camp, I included the usual camping gear and my scout uniforms but also included a suit, white shirt, tie and dress shoes. On the morning of the interview, I dressed in my suit and walked out of the woods carrying my brief case, being careful not to get my shoes muddied. Needless to say, I was greeted by my fellow scouters with much snickering and teasing. I arrived at the campus and began my rounds of interviews, meetings, etc. Now the usual interview process that I had heretofore experienced consisted of a meeting with the president, meetings with various administrative and staff groups, a tour of the college and a meeting with the teaching faculty, usually in a social-reception-type meeting. The less formal reception allows faculty members to drop in depending on their teaching schedules and allows them to stay and ask questions as long as they like. All was going well and the schedule followed the usual scenario but I did get the feeling that things were a bit tense at that time throughout the campus. That feeling was confirmed when I was escorted to the area where I was to meet with the faculty. 137


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I was looking forward to a reception, where the usual punch and cookies would be served since by that time I was getting a little hungry. Instead of a reception area, I was ushered into a classroom where the faculty were all sitting in student desks, facing me as I entered the room. There was no punch and cookies. I was introduced and left to my own resources. I could clearly sense the concern among the faculty as to who I was and what kind of leadership I would bring to the college. I gave a brief description of my experiences and quickly opened the floor to questions. The questions were intense but fair and I believe we had a good dialogue of openness and frank discussion of faculty concerns. It gave me a good insight into the issues facing the college.

could clearly sense the concern among the faculty as to who I was and what kind of leadership I would bring to the college.

I returned home and waited to hear if I had been selected. Now the usual process is that the successful candidate receives a phone call soon after the interviews are concluded, and the offer is made and a salary established. The unsuccessful candidates receive a letter later informing them that “regretfully you were not the one selected.” Since I was the last one to be interviewed, I knew I would get the call very soon after I returned home. No phone call came. About a week later I went to the mail box and there was a letter from MECC. No doubt, it was the “regret” letter. Much to my surprise it was a contract. There was no cover letter. The contract stated that if I accepted the contract, I was to sign and return it within 10 days. While this process seemed a bit odd, I none-the-less wanted the position, and the salary offered was acceptable. I returned the contract and began my tenure at MECC. My sense of tenseness was confirmed when the President left the college within the next 6 months. One of the most interesting issues I had at the college involved two students who were disruptive on the college’s buses. The college had an arrangement with the local school districts to run buses from the outlying counties to the college each day for students who lacked their own transportation. One of the bus drivers reported to me that two of his student riders were fighting and the confrontation was getting worse by the day. One student was a girl and the other a boy. Apparently the fight stemmed from an old family feud.

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I called in the boy student first to see what the issue was and to e replied that seek a peace between the two. I heard the boy out and could the girl had see that the feelings were bitter and the boy had no intentions of relenting. “That’s alright,” he said finally, “I’ll just bring a pace-maker and my garage door opener.” I asked what a garage door opener if she gave him had to do with this issue and he replied that the girl had a pace- any more guff, he maker and if she gave him any more guff, he would just zap would just zap her. her. I was appalled that he bore such malice toward the girl but amused that he thought a garage door opener could affect her pace-maker. The 138


solution was to call them both in and tell them in no uncertain terms to stop the fighting or they would lose their bus riding privileges or worse. I heard no more reports of their feud. – Norman Scott In September, Harold Armsey was elected Chairman of MECC’s Board. He succeeded Billie Lynch.

Management Audit Brings Many Changes — OOn July 12, 1987, the first story broke in the media of a management audit at MECC. Bob Stevenson, Director of Internal auditing for the VCCS, informed media sources that his office was conducting “a management audit, basically as requested,” but he declined to reveal who made the request. (Igo, 1987) In a prepared statement President Victor Ficker said, “The auditors are here at the request of the college.” (Igo, 1987) By the summer of 1987, concerns among faculty and staff at MECC had reached a level that necessitated the audit. Dr. Ficker stated that he had asked officials of the state’s community college system to review MECC operations after learning of questions about management practices among faculty and staff. Ficker declined to address specific concerns but expected to seek solutions. In other reports, Ficker stated that rapid growth and the process of filling several key positions may have caused some concerns: “We probably have some morale problems. . . . But we are dealing with it in an above-board manner. . . . If we have any problems, come in here and help me out. Those were the words I used,” Ficker said. (Rouse, 1987) After more than a month of auditing records, Stevenson indicated the audit was not complete and no public comments were forthcoming until after the team submitted its report to a statewide board. After a closed-door session of the VCCS State Board on September 8, Chancellor Hockaday said that working papers had been reviewed and a report would be made to the public the following week. That report stated that some judgmental errors had been made at MECC, but “nothing criminal or in violation of existing policy.” (Kereluk, 1987) Dr. Ficker responded in a phone call to the Richmond Times Dispatch that “We were pleased that nothing more serious came out. . . . We will take steps to take corrective action where the need exists.” (Churn, 1987) Chancellor Jeff Hockaday assured the media that “The only difficulty with (Ficker) in regard to the audit is we question some of the judgments made by (Ficker and others in his administration.) . . . But there’s nothing in there . . . to fire him. It just wasn’t that kind of audit.” (Igo, MECC Audit Questions Addressed, 1987) Resulting conclusions from the audit indicated no significant findings. VCCS policies were not violated. After discussion, the College Board passed a resolution expressing “support for the continuing good work of the college faculty, staff and administrators.” (Hendrick, Life will go on at MECC after Audit, 1987) 139


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On September 28, Dr. Victor Ficker resigned his n September 28, Dr. Ficker position as president of MECC with an effective resigned his position as resignation date of October 16th. “I have accepted a position as director of corporate training at Northern president of MECC. Virginia Community College as of January 1, 1988,” Ficker told board members. (Kereluk, President of MECC Resigns, 1987) Ficker said the opportunity for the position at Northern Virginia Community College had come up earlier, but Hockaday had asked him to stay to see the audit through. Hockaday said he thought “MECC is a better place because of Ficker.” Hockaday expressed regret for delaying Ficker’s decision to seek other venues. The Board expressed support for Dr. Ficker. Local newspapers reported on his ten years of accomplishments at MECC. “No one can take [those 10 years] from me,” Ficker concluded. (Igo, MECC’s Ficker Resigns, 1987) Although the audit and its findings brought changes to the college, MECC set about continuing its business following Dr. Ficker’s resignation. The college made voluntary changes in personnel assignments and some employees made decisions to seek to change their goals. New Mining and Industrial Technologies Division Chairman Louis Collier told local media he and the college were looking to the future and moving forward, not backward. Indeed, enrollment at the college topped 2,400 students, including 1,044 full-time students and 1,396 part-time students. FTEs dropped slightly—with an end-of-quarter projection of 1,490. Plans moved forward to begin construction of two new buildings on campus; college faculty began to organize to assure better communications around the campus; the college gala to raise funds for MECC’s Educational Foundation occurred on September 26; and the annual Home Crafts Day was set for October 17. Also, during the week of October 19 - 23, Donald E. Puyear arrived at MECC as Interim President.

Faculty Assembly – Faculty Senate — MECC had had a Faculty Assembly in 1974. Several faculty met and wrote the assembly’s constitution. The assembly’s mission was to improve communications across campus and to report faculty concerns to the president. During 1974, several faculty members brought issues to the college’s administration concerning communication and morale across the college. Once these problems were addressed, interest in the assembly paled and meetings occurred less frequently. Over the years the faculty assembly disbanded and there were no further meetings. MECC’s Faculty Senate was created in 1987 to make recommendations to the president and MECC’s Local Advisory Board regarding academic and other issues of concern to the faculty. The senate represented instructional and administrative faculty members who did not report directly to the President or to the Vice-President for Academic and Student Services. Some questions had arisen once again concerning college morale and a perceived lack of communication among college personnel on several levels I served on the first Chancellor’s Faculty Advisory Committee, begun in 1987 to 140


W

e had three Mac’s on campus. I took one to Godwin 225, the math lab, and our group drafted the constitution in one in-service day.

improve communication between the VCCS chancellor and college faculties. Don Puyear had appointed me chair of the president’s search committee. I also served with MECC’s Faculty Senate during its organization. I met with the group of faculty who drafted the senate’s first constitution. We had three Mac’s on campus. I took one to Godwin 225, the math lab, and our group drafted the constitution in one in-service day. – Rhoda Bliese

Minutes from the first MECC Faculty Senate meeting on October 15, 1987, list the following eight members: Chris Allgyer, Gary Bumgarner, Ramond Burgin, Gerry Laney, William Osborne, Van Rose, Peggy Rusek, and Rhoda Bliese. Topics from the first meeting included senate representation, membership, communication structure, member attendance at MECC’s College Board meetings, and the decision that the old college assembly was defunct and was replaced by the faculty senate. Because of the management audit, the faculty senate became very active again. Eight faculty members represented college divisions and attended the College Board meeting in October. Peggy Rusek, speaking for the group, said, “Adverse publicity has overshadowed the quality programs. We want to be more visible. We’re still the same people doing the same quality work.” (Rouse, MECC Moving on, 1987) By the end of the year the senate had established bylaws and a constitution, and was meeting with the interim president on a regular basis. It was the beginning of a crucial advisory organization that had been absent for years at MECC but one that would become essential to the college from its creation until the present.

The College Moves Forward — MECC continued its commitment to community service. The sixteenth annual Home Crafts Day, held on October 17, featured Dale Jett, grandson of A. P. Carter, and Rick Stewart, whose family had a tradition as coopers—craftsmen who work with casks and churns and other wooden products. Players on the Mountain presented The Fantasticks on December 10 and 11. Wilma Dykeman spoke as part of the Foundation’s Cultural and Humanities series. MECC’s faculty began participation in Lee County School System’s STAR academic competitions. These competitions would lead to a long-standing partnership between the college and Wise County’s PACE competitions. David Patterson of the MECC’s math faculty led the college’s efforts. In other events, John Cotham, Professional Librarian at MECC, published an article about Maurice Sendak’s children’s books in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. And once again, MECC’s Christmas cartoons series welcomed hundreds of children to visit with Santa in December. I like to tell people that I came to MECC along with the furniture and library books. I think that some believe that I am trying to be funny, but it is true. I was among 141


those students who trekked through the mud, dust, and construction to be part of the first class to attend MECC. My first work/study job was to help unpack the library books, get them ready for the shelves, and put together the Library. I worked for Mel Bullock during my first year on campus. (He was best known then for his great personality, interest in students, and that handlebar moustache.) It seems ironic that the area I started in is now the area where I work. The GAIN and Talent Search areas are in the space once occupied by the Library. In addition to being a part of the original student body, I was also one of the first students who rode the MECC Learning in Transit bus from Lee County. What an adventure! Although the LIT buses looked like tour buses, they were supposed to be mobile classrooms that allowed students to use their travel time to take classes or work on their MECC class work. They were the brainchild of our President, Dr. George Vaughan. He and MECC were very proud of the LIT busses, and they were taken on the road to our local high schools. I do not think that Dr. Vaughan was prepared for the reaction by a local principal when his response to this innovative use of equipment was that the buses sure would be great to take hunting. The premise was a good one, but it was a much different story in actual practice. These buses were noisy, uncomfortable, and probably the most expensive carpool ever developed. The 1970s lacked the technology to make this wonderful idea workable. I can’t say that I learned much on that bus, but those of us who rode it sure had a lot of fun and built a rich social network.

I

was not only prepared to stand before a crowd, I was able to be the leader of my debate team.

I came to MECC as a drop-out from ETSU, who was the also first in my family to pursue a college degree. Perry Carroll convinced me that I had what it took to be a student, so I gave MECC a try. Van Rose saw me as a challenge, when he discovered that I would pretend not to know the answer to something rather than have to speak up. He told me sometime during the first couple of times that I attended in his speech class that by the time I left his class I would be able to speak to anyone about anything. Our final exam was a debate that was open to the campus. I was not only prepared to stand before a crowd, I was able to be the leader of my debate team. I did not realize then, but he helped equip me for my life’s work. There were many firsts during my 2-year stay at MECC. We formed the first Phi Beta Lambda Chapter, and I was elected State President. The first Home Craft Days was presented to the community while I was here. Roddy Moore convinced PBL that we needed to make apple cider at the first ever festival to preserve and showcase traditional Appalachian skills and crafts. None of us were prepared for the invasion of the yellow jackets, but we had so much fun that none of us left. I don’t think I ever told anyone that day that I was extremely allergic to bee stings. We could not have imagined then that our modest Appalachian festival would grow to what it is today! During MECC’s second year, my brother Greg joined me as a student here. We were 142


quite a pair! We took classes together whenever we could. Gary Bumgarner and Tom Burke (history) are probably faculty members who wished we hadn’t. We were notorious for taking our class discussions in directions that took up a lot of class time. MECC was like other campuses in the 1970s, and had its own streaker. One of our housekeeping ladies made stopping him her personal mission. Her plan was to get him with her ‘deadly’ mop bucket. I don’t remember if she ever did, but the streaking did stop. In those early days, we were more like a family than a college campus. Learning happened as it was supposed to, but this was a fun place to be. No one seemed interested in leaving once we got here, so there was always a gathering of students somewhere. This was truly a happy place! Many times the lines between faculty and students blended as we planned and carried out activities together. Singing in the MECC choir with Chris Allgyer, making daily visits to Bonnie Elosser and Jim and Peggy Durham, wondering what Bill Harris found so great in physics, hosting a baby shower for Gary and Marilyn Bumgarner, dropping in to chat with Dr. Vaughan and his secretary, Shirley Wells, and giving Ben Wheless a continual hard time (and getting the same back) were among some of the must do activities. And, all the time without our knowing it, MECC and its student-focused faculty and staff were teaching and mentoring us, and in the process shaping us into persons who could take our place in transfer institutions or career fields. Students left MECC with the skills to succeed as upperclassmen in a 4-year college or university or in their chosen career. I have come full circle, from ETSU drop-out to the Director of TRIO Programs for MECC. Along the way, I completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and became a Board Certified Professional Counselor. Since 1995, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with high risk students in the area where I began as a high risk student. It does not get any better than this! Thank you, MECC. – Regenia Massey

California Raisins Perform “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” at MECC

No, not those California raisins, at least not the animated characters of claymation animation. These were the real Raisins of MECC origin. Della Bays, Lena Grace, and Debbie Pippin played roles as backup singers while Willie Price-Harris lip-synched the lead of Marvin Gaye’s signature song. In an exceptional demonstration of imagination and talent, the Admissions and Records group won first place in the 1987 Halloween Dress-up Contest for their rendition of Motown’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” The ladies costumes included the full arrangement of large purple grapes outfits, blue high-top tennis shoes, white gloves, and purple faces. They danced in rhythmic syncopation while lip-synching before audiences gathered around them in the front lobby of Godwin Hall. People who saw the performance remember it as one of the college’s happy times. 143


1988 Brings Transition and New Beginnings By the beginning of 1988, MECC was well on its way to finding a new president. Sixty-six applications had been submitted to the VCCS offices, the State Board had reviewed documents, and the pool of applicants had been narrowed during December of 1987. By December 23, Chancellor Jonas Hockaday had met with MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey with a list of 20 candidates who had met qualifications during the early cuts. Armsey emphasized the need for a president who could adapt with the area and who could relate to the coal industry. In January a committee of VCCS faculty, staff and administrators not affiliated with any of the applicants met to review the twenty remaining applicants and to select those who would be interviewed. In February, the list was narrowed to six to ten candidates to be interviewed by the VCCS committee. Following those interviews a group of from three to five finalists would interview at the college. Harold Armsey expressed his opinion that some very talented candidates were among the group. In March four finalists were certified by the Personnel Committee of the State Board of Community Colleges to undergo interviews on MECC’s campus. Those selected were Dr. Gregory D. Adkins, Chapmanville, West Virginia; Dr. Ruth M. Fossedal, Batavia, New York; Dr. David R. Perkins, Lewisburg, West Virginia; and Dr. Harold D. Van Hook, Rosedale, Virginia. MECC formed an interview committee made up of board members, administrators, faculty, staff, and students to interview the final four. After those interviews, the committee planned to report to MECC’s Board on March 22 and to rank candidates according to committee preferences. Harold Armsey and Chancellor Hockaday would determine the successful candidate.

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n March 23, MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey announced to a gathering of about sixty college personnel that Ruth Fossedal of Batavia, New Yoark, wold be named as the third president of Mountain Empire Community College.

On March 23, MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey announced to a gathering of about sixty college personnel that Ruth Fossedal of Batavia, New York, would be named as the third president of Mountain Empire Community College. Dr. Fossedal would begin her position on June 1. She was also the third woman to serve as a VCCS college president. MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey said of Fossedal, “She has demonstrated in previous activities that she is a very caring person very attuned to people, and she has demonstrated that she can get things done.” (Rouse, MECC Announces President, Third Woman in System, 1988)

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Dr. Ruth Smith “A community College is a very special place.” (MECC News Release, 1988) With those words, Dr. Ruth Mercedes (Fossedal) Smith assumed her duties as President of MECC before a gathering of news media on June 1, 1988. She promised “vigorous and energetic leadership” and described her vision of MECC as a “college that cares.” Newly wedded to retired police Chief Stan Smith, Ruth Smith came to Virginia with an impressive background in administration, education, and community service. Her previous position had been as Chief Academic Officer (Dean) of Genesee Community College at Batavia, New York. She held a Ph. D. in Administrative Leadership from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. She had been named Woman of the Year by the American Association of Women in Community and Junior Colleges in 1983. Arriving at MECC during a time of high unemployment in the region, Smith brought empathy to her duties. She explained that she had once faced a job layoff and, when she tried to return to college to gain her doctorate in administrative leadership, she faced dissuasion from college personnel. “I was a dislocated worker myself before they invented the term.” (Barber, New MECC President Empathizes, 1988) With her own past obstacles to education and employment in mind, Dr. Smith promised a friendly, caring atmosphere at MECC. Student retention would be a priority. She pledged to support the arts, tourism in the area, literacy, job retraining, and economic development through the hard work of faculty and staff. Ruth Smith was inaugurated on September 25. At the inauguration, Delegate Jack Kennedy and college representatives spoke of Dr. Smith’s credentials and of why she had been chosen as the college’s third president. Kennedy said Smith was “just what we wanted. We need more educators with these big credentials and big ideals.” Representing the college’s faculty and staff, Faculty Senate President Van Rose presented Smith with the symbolic key to the college and stated, “We wanted a president who knew good things came from doing things well. . . . Dr. Smith’s rare combination of compassion, intellect, and initiative was the edge [for hiring her].” (Dean, New MECC Head: Access College’s first Responsibility, 1988) 145


Smith told the crowd, “Our students return home every evening and share what they have learned with their families. Their lives are changed through education, and their lives and the community will never be the same. We must not take our mission lightly.” (Dean, New MECC Head: Access College’s first Responsibility, 1988) Ruth Smith worked to improve opportunities at MECC through greater efforts from Talent Search, literacy and transfer programs, child care facilities, and transportation to and from the college. She was an “ideas” manager. According to MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey, more than onehalf of MECC’s students came from families with incomes below $10,000. In an effort to get more parents enrolled, Dr. Smith proposed a child care facility on campus. To achieve that goal, Smith brought in a Head Start program in 1990. Dr. Smith’s plan was to have a separate area behind Godwin Hall with a single building devoted to Head Start. After considerable deliberation and effort, the college moved a double-wide facility to campus and underpinned it on cinderblocks. Dr. Smith commented to Sharon Fisher, “Some day we need to write a book about this.” MECC’s Dean of Financial and Administrative Services, Everett Sadler worked for nearly a year to cut through all the red tape of contracts and state approvals. Plans were made for a two buildings and a playground in a grassy area between Godwin and Holton Halls. Bill Bowen, director of Wise County/Norton/ Dickenson Head Start, was ready. Head Start teacher Lucille Zander was ready. Marcia Kibler noted, “We are delighted to have the children coming. This will open up all sorts of options, for us as well as [for] Head Start.” (Holyfield, MECC First Campus with Head Start, 1990) Smith also planned to build a new Lonesome Pine Theater at the apex of MECC’s campus, but that idea was met with some turmoil in the town of Big Stone Gap, and the idea was dropped. Limited successes did not dampen Smith’s penchant for ideas. Her staff began every day reviewing “white notes” Smith had dropped on their desks. Often notes would begin with “Why don’t we do this?” A question leading to another project.

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s I drove toward Big Stone Gap, I was struck by the beauty of the mountains and the blue sky above.

Two weeks before my scheduled interviews for the presidency of Mountain Empire Community College, I flew into the Tri-Cities Airport and rented a car. It was my intention to visit the campus and get a feel for the community. As I drove toward Big Stone Gap, I was struck by the beauty of the mountains and the blue sky above. Later I was hired and moved, with my husband, to the mountains of southwestern Virginia.’

During my tenure at the college, I had the privilege of working with a wide variety of organizations in the four-county area. Through these partnerships MECC participated in efforts to improve the economy, enhance tourism activities, increase the skills of workers and build a smooth transition from high school to the community college. 146


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Most importantly, during this time I met many of our students and had the privilege of working with an outstanding group of faculty, staff and board members. One adult student, in particular, stands out in my mind. I first met her at our off-campus site in St. Charles. She had just started taking college courses and was beginning to build her self-confidence. A year later I saw her sitting with a group of students on campus and was pleased that she had continued her studies. Our paths crossed occasionally on campus and it was always a joy to talk to her and to observe her exuberance.

s she walked across the stage, I could feel the tears forming in my eyes.

The last time I saw her was at the May 1992 MECC graduation ceremony. As she walked across the stage, I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. As she returned to her seat, she stopped by my chair and gave me a hug. What a thrill that was for me.

Several factors drew me to Southwest Virginia and to the college, starting with the attitudes of people who make up MECC. The faculty, support staff, and students all have a really caring attitude and the size of the school was also right. I needed to be able to get my hands around the school where I worked. As we drove through the mountains on that last visit, I still marveled at the lovely scenery. But what I will always hold in my heart will be the beauty of the people: their creativity, persistence and pride. It was an honor to serve as the third president of this very special college and I wish all of you the very best in the years to come. – Dr. Ruth Smith My phone rang one Saturday morning around 7:00 a.m. It was Dr. Smith, asking me to join her on a ride of a special, coal-fired train scheduled to run from Kingsport to Bull’s Gap, Tennessee – that day! She had bought two tickets, determined to get to know and enjoy this area. It seems Smiddy, her husband, had no interest in going. It was a HOT, HUMID July day. The train had no air conditioning and any possible relief from sticking your head out a window resulted in getting cinders bombarding your face. We laughed all day long. Among the onlookers along the tracks that day was Ron Flanary, renowned for his passion for trains and artistry in painting them. Later, Dr. Smith gave me a framed painting of that train; a gift I treasure for the memories of her, and also having a Flanary original. Another gift she gave me was the opportunity to go to the USSR in 1991. She had been given an invitation to join in an environmental exchange trip being formed by Neil Murphy, the Learning Resources director at VHCC. Instead, she told me she thought I should go, since I was into hiking and backpacking in those days. This was a life-changing experience and later had implications for MECC when one 147


of my new-found Russian friends, Dr. Sergei Polozov, a professor of ornithology, replaced Dr. Chuks Ogbonnaya while he was away on a Fulbright sabbatical. Soon after she left MECC, Dr. Smith asked Dr. Puyear, Interim President, if I could come to her college in Indiana to do some workshops for her staff in grant writing and institutional research. She paid my air fare, put me up in her home, and took me sight-seeing over the weekend. While I was flattered that she invited me, I was also a bit embarrassed as the person brought in to show ‘how we did it at her former college.’ I also expected her staff was now getting those notes on their desks with ideas of things to do! She was a lovely, caring person. We had buttons saying, “The College that Cares!” I think she was influenced in leaving because Smiddy was not comfortable living in these mountains. Her death came as a shock to us and a life ended too soon for someone who truly cared about students and the role of the community college. – Dr. Sharon Fisher Under the direction of a new president, the college did undergo significant changes. Plans had been in the works for some time for the VCCS to convert from the quarter system to the semester system in summer of 1988. The transition was necessary, system administrators reasoned, to help students transfer credits to other Virginia colleges, which were already using the semester schedule or were converting to it. To ease fears from students who had accumulated credits under the quarter system that those credits might be lost, MECC Dean of Academic and Student Services, Dr. Norman Scott, assured students, “We’re going to bend over backwards to work hard with students in minimizing the time and expense such a conversion can cost.” (Hall, 1987) In other changes, The John Fox, Jr. Festival announced it was adding a short story contest, sponsored by Lonesome Pine Properties, to writers of all ages. Cash prizes of $100 first place, $50 second place and $25 third place would be awarded during the April 12 ceremonies. Mark Poteet of Appalachia won the $100 first prize for his entry “The Notebook.” Dr. Edward Lee Henson, Jr., and Patricia Cantrell spoke at the festival. The college celebrated National TRIO Day with other colleges across the country. TRIO offered educational opportunities to disadvantaged and minority students. On March 5, 250 area students participated in MECC’s business competitions. The Business and Technology Division sponsored the contests. The Southwest Virginia Management Association sponsored a scholarship in honor of Joyce Armsey. By early 1988, the scholarship efforts had totaled over $3,000 in collections. The Cultural and Humanities series focused on southern short stories that spring. It featured college faculty. Dr. Patricia Brown spoke on Flannery O’Connor’s works; Kenneth Golden spoke on William Faulkner’s stories; and Walt Holden lectured on Truman Capote’s Christmas and Thanksgiving reminisces. 148


Theater efforts continued to thrive as Players on the Mountain produced two plays during the spring. Collette King of Wise, Diane Wade of Big Stone Gap, and Jeff Kiser of Pound, appeared in Pulitzer Prize winning “Crimes of the Heart” on March 10 – 12. Arthur Miller’s powerful drama, The Crucible, played before large audiences on May 19, 20, and 21 in MECC’s DaltonCantrell Auditorium. Lead roles were performed by Mark Swindall and Linda Butz as John and Elizabeth Proctor, Collette King as Abigail Williams, Frank Kibler of Appalachia as hanging Judge Hathorne, and Rene Burney of Big Stone Gap as Tituba. Ramond Burgin, assistant professor of Drama, directed the plays.

“Yes, You Can!” Student GAINs at MECC — Robert Fultz of Norton exemplified the spirit of MECC’s students in the eighties. When Robert suffered a broken femur and two broken vertebrae in a mining accident in 1983, he was told by his doctor he would never work in a mine again. Robert decided his best option was to return to school. He enrolled at MECC in the fall of 1986 and maintained an A average during his matriculation there. With the support of his family, his faith, and his hard work, Robert succeeded in his goals to complete a four-year college degree while dividing his time between physical recovery, his wife and child, and his studies. Not only did Robert achieve his dreams, he helped others as well. While at MECC, Robert volunteered to tutor in the college’s GAIN program. “My goal is to be a teacher, so I thought this (being a tutor) would be good experience,” Fultz commented. (MECC News Release, 1988) Fulton exceeded his expectations as a student. He said he had been an average student while in high school which he completed eight years before enrolling in college, and he thought only outstanding students went to college. “It’s so easy to just quit, that t’s so easy to just a lot of people can’t make it over a little hump, a little mountain.” quit, that a lot (Barber, When Robert Fultz says ‘Hey, Yes, you can!’ he Means of people can’t make it, 1988)

“I

it over a little hump, a

Robert Fultz came to “The Mountain,” he climbed “The Mountain,” little mountain.” and he reached the summit of his goals while there. He truly illustrated the spirit of students at Mountain Empire with his attitude of “Hey! Yes you can!”

Chris Allgyer assumed the directorship of MECC’s popular Magnet School during the summer of 1988. Bill Harris and Frank Brimelow assisted Allgyer with the project. To support the costs of the Magnet School, Mr. Allgyer applied for and received a $20,714 grant from the National Science Foundation. Fifty openings were available for area high school students, and the program quickly filled with applicants and overflowed into a waiting list. That year’s itinerary included a trip to Oak Ridge, Tennessee’s nuclear facility, to Roanoke and Virginia Tech, and hands-on experience with the latest MacIntosh software. “We make them (the students) keep a daily journal, a record of their experiences, and of what they learned each day,” Chris said. (Holyfield, Area Students Learn and Earn for a Month in Magnet School, 1988) 149


MECC held graduation commencement on June 10, 1988, with approximately 275 candidates for certificates and degrees. Dr. Jeff Hockaday, Chancellor of the Virginia community College System, was the speaker. During the ceremonies, Dr. Ruth Smith cited MECC Board members who had completed their terms in office. Ms. Billie Lynch from Scott County had served for ten years; Ms. Debbie Thomas of Scott County had served three years; and Reverend Sam Neeley of Scott County left the board after two years to move to Jonesborough, Tennessee. Also, during graduation ceremonies, MECC’s Foundation recognized Mr. William Clements who was retiring from his position as senior vice-president and executive officer of Sovran Bank in Norton on July 1. Mr. Clements had contributed many years to the college as board member and chairman during the early years and later as a community leader and businessman. Marcia Kibler and Glenn Teasley presented a resolution to Clements from MECC’s Foundation citing his years of service. In other honors, Mr. Edward Hutchinson, Vice-chairman of MECC’s Board, presented a resolution to the wife of Glenwood King for Mr. King’s contributions to the college. The resolution expressed appreciation to Mr. King who was instrumental in bringing MECC to Southwest Virginia. He helped raise money for the first buildings on campus and he served for ten years on the board. MECC began Fall Semester 1988 with high hopes and a renewed vigor for the future. With the new Robb Hall nearly completed, the college expected to provide greater and better learning resources to support student studies through longer semester sessions. It was the Board’s first meeting with new-appointed MECC President Dr. Ruth Mercedes Smith. Board Chairman Harold Armsey moved through the agenda smoothly. He told the members that completion of Robb Hall was slated for October, with dedication ceremonies likely in December. MECC’s College Board asked for an inclusion of $50,000 in the state’s upcoming budget to renovate Godwin Hall, which was 16 years old. Once library facilities moved to Robb Hall, that space would be available. Also, the Board recommended additional monies to provide an easier and a more attractive entrance to the college from the lower parking lot. Indeed, 1988 ran smoothly through its conclusion in December. The college’s 17th annual Home Crafts Day on October 15 featured over 200 craftsmen with a full slate of handmade traditions. George Reynolds, musical director of Firefox, oversaw a concert of mountain music. Fione Zahnke spun flax into yarn on her authentic spinning wheel. Among many other crafts, Earl Sage’s molasses making was a crowd favorite.

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Robb Hall, 1984 - 1988

 MECC began formal plans for a new Learning Resources Center/Allied Health building in 1984. The College Board met in October. Ms. Imogene Sturgill, Board member, moved that the college name the proposed building “Charles Robb Hall, and her motion passed by a unanimous vote. The Board noted the precedent of naming MECC buildings after former governors of Virginia. President Ficker advised the Board that funding for the building would probably rank high on the list of state appropriations. Ficker also emphasized the need for expanded library facilities and predicted MECC would face accreditation criticism for the smallest college library in Virginia if it did not move forward on this project. He singled out increasing enrollments at MECC as key to obtaining funds. The original plan for the new building was to locate the library and learning resources offices on the ground floor and to house allied health classrooms on the second floor. The proposed cost was $3 million. The General Assembly approved $119,000 for the structure’s planning and design later in 1984. In July of 1985, Governor Chuck Robb and about thirty delegates and state legislators toured MECC’s campus, where Dr. Ficker pointed out the limited space the college had for its library and the limited classroom and laboratory space it had for its respiratory therapy and nursing programs. The library had seating for only 76 students and was running out of shelf space for its 20,000 volumes. Respiratory therapy and nursing laboratories were inadequate. When Governor Robb’s budget arrived in early 1986, hopes dimmed for the new building, as no funds were included for its construction. Dr. Ficker expressed disappointment but suggested that “If we are going to get the new building, we’ll have to get it through the amendment process.” (Hollyfield, MECC Building Excluded from State Budget, 1986) While there had been praise for Governor Robb’s support of education in his proposed budget, Ficker noted that no community college project received funding in the final budget. Some people, disappointed, questioned changing the College Board’s decision to name the new building after Robb, but Ficker said he did not foresee that happening. 151


Instead, Dr. Ficker traveled to Richmond on January 30 to present MECC’s needs to a capital outlay committee. Many people, including Delegates Jim Robinson of Pound and Ford Quillen of Gate City, feared the request would fall on deaf ears because MECC faced stiff competition from SVCC and NVCC for funds for new buildings. It appeared to be an all or none decision, and legislators were unlikely to find enough money for all requests. By the end of February, however, in a sudden turn of fortunes, both houses of the General Assembly approved approximately $1.8 million for MECC’s projected building. Delegate Jim Robinson said the two versions of the bill agreed on most issues, including increases in state funding for education. Robinson added, “The community colleges are an educational asset to our area and these building projects will provide the necessary space and facilities for the education of our students.” (MECC News Release, 1986)

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y the end of February, however, in a sudden turn of fortunes, both houses of the General Assembly approved approximately $1.8 million for MECC’s projected building.

Within a month the General Assembly had approved $18.5 billion for the 1986-88 biennial budgets that earmarked $2.6 million for the new allied health/learning resources building at MECC. On Saturday, March 8, the General Assembly completed its business for the session with the good news. Dr. Ficker informed MECC’s Board that the college would need to raise $230,000 to fulfill local government obligations. Funding was needed by July 1. Dr. Ficker noted that, while excavation monies represented a major contribution from communities, the area would realize many benefits once the new building was completed.

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lans moved quickly. MECC held a ground breaking ceremony for the new learning resources/allied health building on Wednesday, May 14, at 2:30 p.m.

Plans moved quickly. MECC held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new learning resources/allied health building on Wednesday, May 14, at 2:30 p.m. VCCS Chancellor Dr. Jeff Hockaday, State Board for Community Colleges members, and several state representatives joined Dr. Ficker, faculty, staff, and students for the activities.

State representatives included Senator John Buchanan and Delegates Jim Robinson and Ford Quillen, who were instrumental in gaining funds for the building. “It’s not pork-barrel—it represents a need, and it’s an investment in the future,” said Senator Buchanan. Delegate Quillen added, “This is an accomplishment everybody deserves credit for.” (Couch, 1986) Preliminary construction of the “miracle” building began during the summer. Bids were not opened, however, until September, with a decision for awarding the contract expected within three weeks. Everett Sadler, Dean of Finance at MECC, indicated that Armstrong Construction Company of Kingsport made the apparent low bid at $2.05 million, while the highest bid came from Avis Construction Company of Roanoke at $2.25 million. Governor Gerald Baliles approved Armstrong Construction Company’s bid—revised to $2.06 152


million—and Dr. Ficker informed MECC’s College Board that the new building had a 425-day construction period. Previously omitted building equipment was reinstated and resulted in the revision of the original contract bid. Architectural plans had also changed; allied health classrooms would occupy the ground floor and the library and learning resources facilities would be on the second level. By January 1987, excavation was complete and the building was under construction. With an artist’s conception of the 31,000-square-foot Allied Health-Learning Resources Center on display, Dr. Ficker touted its benefits. At a luncheon meeting in the Norton Holiday Inn featuring Robb Hall’s new drawing, Dr. Ficker said, “We’re going up and up.” (Fields, MECC College Outgrowing Facilities, 1987) Dr. Ficker informed his luncheon audience that fall enrollment for 1986 had increased and the college expected another increase come Fall Quarter 1987. Student enrollment had topped 3800— 2129 on-campus students and 1734 off-campus. Of those numbers, 958 were full-time students and 2905 were part-time; 2381 were male and 1482 were female. The reason for a higher number of male students, Dr. Ficker said, was because of the number of coal mine technology classes, on and off campus. “It’s very hard to keep going up, from up, but that’s what we’re doing,” he said. (Hendrick, 1987) By August, a concrete foundation was in place and steel frames were erected to support the building’s structure. Construction went smoothly over the winter of 1987 and into the spring and summer of 1988. The new Allied Health-Learning Resources Center was under roof and nearly ready in August 1988 as MECC began its first fall “semester” classes. Completion would come none too soon, as the college’s library collections were increasing and the nursing and respiratory therapy programs flourished. Respiratory therapy, in particular, expanded. Its advisory board had recommended a curriculum upgrade to improve training of competent respiratory care practitioners and to incorporate the latest respiratory care concepts, and the program received approval from the VCCS on May 16, 1988, for a 14-month diploma program. Robb Hall, said MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey, would be completed in October. Learning Resources and Allied Health would move into the new building within the last two months of 1988, and the building would be dedicated, hopefully, in December. Dedication was set back until April 14, 1989. Topping the list of dignitaries slated to attend was Senator Charles Robb. At the dedication, MECC Board President Harold Armsey and MECC President Ruth Smith welcomed as special guests Virginia Delegates Ford Quillen and Jack Kennedy, and past President Victor Ficker. Hugh Stallard, President of C & P Telephone Company, gave the dedication address. Armsey and Smith cut the ceremonial ribbon. Robb Hall was officially complete.

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MECC Gets DMME Building — At the same time as the Learning Resources and Allied Health facility was going up, the college also strengthened its bonds with the mining industry by gaining a new Division of Mines, Minerals and Energy building on campus. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy requested funds for the building during 1985 shortly after the state’s Division of Mine Land Reclamation and the Division of Mine Quarries joined as the single DMME agency. DMME Director Gene Dishner asked for a 44,000 square foot office building and a 7,000 square foot garage. He explained that the facility would bring one-stop shopping to many coal operators who had worked with both the DMLR and the DMQ. Mining agencies had been sharing small spaces in downtown Big Stone Gap. Since the two former mining divisions had had a favorable working relationship with MECC, relocating the new DMME building on the college’s campus seemed a good fit for all. The State Board of Community Colleges approved the concept of locating the building on campus, and Dr. Ficker informed MECC’s Board in April 1985 of the proposal. In March 1988, MECC’s College Board voted unanimously to deed approximately 10 acres of the college campus to DMME for construction of the office complex. Governor Baliles included funds in his budget for preliminary planning. Board President Harold Armsey said the college was in a favorable position for approval and that housing DMME on campus would enhance and expand MECC’s mining curricula. By July 1987, rumors circulated that the two old DMME buildings would be moved from Big Stone Gap unless the state consolidated them under one roof. Unfortunately, the state budget did not allocate funds. MECC and the Wise County Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions asking the governor to include the project in the 1988 - 89 capital outlay budget.

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In August 1989, the new DMME building on MECC’s campus n August 1989, became a fact—officially. Word came from the state’s lottery the new DMME office that $140.5 million in lottery profits would provide for the first of 88 capital outlay projects. Funds for DMME totaled $10.8 building on MECC’s million. Part of that sum included a new office in Charlottesville, campus became a fact with $4.1 million earmarked for the office building at the college - officially. site in Big Stone Gap. “We are extremely pleased,” said DMME’s public information officer, Mike Abbott. “This is going to provide major improvements to the citizens and industries we serve.” (Holyfield, The Post, 1989) Groundbreaking for the 44,000 square-foot office building on a twelve-acre site was set for the summer of 1990, beginning in June. After 18 months, DMME personnel moved into the new facility in January, 1992. DMME held an open house in June of that year.

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Admissions and Records Win Again — Once again in 1988, MECC’s Admissions and Records group won first place in the annual Halloween Contest. This time they dressed as the Seven Dwarfs from Snow White. The characters were, from left to right: Cheryl “Sleepy” Richardson, Debbie “Happy” Pippin, Paula “Doc” Cross (student), Barbara “Bashful” Coffey, Della “Grumpy” Bays, Lena “Sneezy” Grace, Willie “Dopey” Harris, Helen “Prince Charming” Brown (student), and Perry “Snow White” Carroll. 

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1989 Marks Big Changes in Classes, More Building Space, and no Dipping, no Smoking, No Chewing When MECC opened for Spring Semester 1989, classes cost $25.95 per credit. Twelve semester credits cost $311.40. Grants were readily available through MECC’s Financial Aid Office. With her new mini-computer, Cheryl Richardson could tell students within 24 hours if they qualified for a PELL grant. While students were waiting for a reply, Miss Richardson could help applicants pay tuition and book expenses and reimburse those charges when the PELL grant arrived.

“A

residue of smoke and smoke ash around video recorders is like sandpaper on your face.”

In another sweeping change, the new Robb Hall became a smokefree facility. At the time Dr. Smith said she did not expect the other buildings to become tobacco free. Faculty members Mike Cook and Johanne Watson ran an informal survey of 200 faculty, students, and staff. Results showed that most people did not smoke and some people were allergic to smoke. Audio-visual technician Joseph Givens said, “A residue of smoke and smoke ash around video recorders is like sandpaper on your face.” (Herbestreet, 1989)

Clearly, smoking at MECC was on its way out. The old days of tinsel ash trays with MECC’s logo on the side, a good Camel during a dull lecture, and a carefree light-up after lunch were all, literally, up in smoke.

Annual Activities Continue with more Successes — One hundred area students attended the annual business contests at MECC in March 1989. The contests, directed by Louise Brown, Leah Hicks, and Shirley Wells, challenged students to sharpen their business skills. The John Fox, Jr. Festival occurred on April 20. Frankie Holbrooke, former resident of Wise County living in New York, won first place in the short story contest, sponsored by MECC and Don Wax Reality. Players on the Mountain presented The Curious Savage by John Patrick at the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium on May 4 – 6. MECC faculty members Patricia Brown and Ramond Burgin played lead roles in the play, a comedy about residents in a home for the emotionally disturbed. MECC’s Educational Foundation sponsored the literary discussion series titled “Contemporary Poets of the Southern Mountains.” Mrs. Rita Quillen, author of October Dusk and Looking for Native Ground, was the keynote speaker. 156


At graduation ceremonies on May 13, Dr. Ed Barnes, President of Paul D. Camp Community College, spoke to the candidates for 163 degrees and 178 certificates. Dr. Barnes urged graduates to use their learning and skills to shape a better world. Other activities included the 1989 Virginia Governor’s Magnet School from June 19 through July 14. Mr. Chris Allgyer once again directed the science and math programs for students from Wise, Scott, Lee and Dickenson Counties and the City of Norton. Magnet School students received eight hours of college credit and a $200 stipend for participating in the programs. Delegate Ford Quillen presented students with certificates on the last day of the program. With its revised name “Home Craft Days,” MECC’s enormously popular fall celebration of music and mountain traditions, was expanded to two days, October 21 and 22. For the first seventeen years, the celebration had been a one-day affair. But in October 1989, 10,000 people came to explore 150 exhibits. Singers, fiddlers, guitar players, banjo pickers, and dulcimer strummers were among the entertainers. E. H. Salyer of Nickelsville received “Best in the Show” for his woodcarving of driftwood and other woods into a variety of birds and faces. Gary Walker of Roanoke spoke about his research which had resulted in two books covering the Civil War in Southwest Virginia. President Ruth Smith awarded three people as Employees of the Year at MECC. They were Staff Member of the Year Mary Lyons, Faculty of the Year Rhoda Kyle, and Administrator of the Year Everett Sadler. It was the first of an award that would become an annual recognition of outstanding employees.

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resident Ruth Smith awarded three people as Employees of the Year at MECC.

The respiratory therapy program graduated its first fifteen candidates from the new diploma program in August. Dr. Lawrence Fleenor of Big Stone Gap was the keynote speaker. He commented that being a part of the program had been a highlight of his life. Fleenor served on the respiratory care advisory board. A long-standing record may have been set when three generations of one family—made up of six family members--completed a course at MECC in 1989. Vic Jones and his wife June, their daughter Deirde and her husband Eddie Wells, their children Amanda 11 and Savannah 5, and Eddie Well’s secretary Rhonda McElroy enrolled in beginning calligraphy during fall semester. The class was taught by Suzanne Hubbard. The six students were looking forward to taking intermediate calligraphy in spring semester. MECC’s police science program produced Big Stone gap’s first patrolwoman. Women had worked in police forces before as meter maids and dispatchers, but not on patrol. Violet Bledsoe, who had worked as a meter maid, graduated from MECC and received a Dean’s Outstanding Student Award in the police science curriculum. Ruth Smith signed an articulation agreement with Jerry Bishop, Superintendent of Lee County Schools, to establish dual credit for Lee County high school juniors and seniors who carried a “B” 157


average. The articulation broadened an earlier agreement for dual credits by adding office systems technology classes and business management classes. With Robb Hall open, the college began to display various arts from the region in its new C. Bascom Slemp Art Gallery in the entranceway to the library. One of the first exhibits featured the photographs of William Richardson Mullins, “Pictureman.” Mullins’ subjects reflected the lives of people during the 20s and the 30s—their weddings, baptisms, births, and funerals.

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ee Nolan, sportscaster for WCYB-TV in Bristol, spoke to more than 200 students at the annual “World Here We Come” seminar sponsored by MECC’s business faculty.

Lee Nolan, sportscaster for WCYB-TV in Bristol, spoke to more than 200 students at the annual “World Here We Come” seminar sponsored by MECC’s business faculty. Nolan advised students to look at life as a series of opportunities, not limitations. MECC brought in new College Board members to replace departing members. Two new members from Wise County, Mr. Larry Jackson and Ms. Sue Carol Gilbert came aboard. One of those appointments was to replace Hersh Hayden of Westmoreland Coal Company, who resigned. Mr. Greg Barker replaced Mr. Henry Spangler as Dickenson County’s representative.

Early results indicated record enrollment for Fall Semester 1989. Dr. Norman Scott, Dean of Academic Instruction and Student Services, noted that summer semester enrollment had reached near record levels. Indeed, fall enrollment increased by 15 percent. Preliminary head count reached 2,345, with an increase of 200 full-time students. Micro-computer classes were leading the way in registering more students. The larger numbers of students led to Governor Baliles approving an additional 350 adjunct faculty positions for the VCCS, which was projecting that enrollment would rise above the projected 64,000 to possibly 70,000. President Ruth Smith was proving to be productive in the area and around the world. In April, Dr. Smith and Glenda Wilson were guest speakers at the professional development seminar sponsored by MECC’s Chapter of Professional Secretaries. The two spoke on “How to Build a Winning Team.” Mrs. Wilson told seminar participants, “She [Dr. Smith] understands the demands placed on a secretary. . . . To keep an office operating efficiently, all the people in the office have to work as a team.” (MECC News Release, 1989) Later that December, Dr. Smith was invited to travel to Beijing, China, the following June (1990) to present her paper “Educational Needs of Rural Mountain Women” at the first Sino-American Conference on Women’s Issues. Smith had met with a joint-planning committee in Beijing and Tianjin during October 1989, and her work in those sessions earned her invitation. The year 1989 rang out with MECC’s 17th annual Christmas Cartoon Festival on December 5 - 7 and the Players on the Mountain performing A Christmas Carol on December 8 – 10. Ramond Burgin directed the play; Chris Light played Scrooge; Mary Kuczko Adams was stage manager. The best things about my MECC experience was getting to know the faculty, staff, 158


volunteers and students while feeling I was making worthwhile contributions as a lay person to the improvement of education and employment opportunities for residents of SWVA. I value the opportunities I had in positions of leadership to make lasting changes. Being involved in the establishment of the Education Foundation and serving as its second president for two years was very meaningful. And now to see the Foundation’s assets and the help [it provides] to those who have a need. to support their education which in turn gives those many lifetime benefits. To witness the leadership and growth provided by Donna Stanley and other staff. The Education Foundation is one of the greatest assets that the college has to help in the education and financial support of students. Having had the privilege of knowing every president always made me realize the high quality, dedicated, and academically strong leaders that found their place in SWVA education for the betterment of all of us.

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y fondest

My fondest memory of MECC was the eleven years of service on memory the Advisory Board and serving as chair for three of those years. The very close relations that the board had with the presidents of MECC was and staff, especially Glenda Wilson, all the while working to help the eleven years MECC grow and serve the area. The Advisory Board has been of service on the a guiding influence and help to the programs of the college. I particularly enjoyed my relationship with Ruth Smith, who was Advisory Board hired during my presidency. I also had the opportunity to help and serving as integrate Ruth into the community. It was touching for me to be chair for three presented a special award in 1990, designed and made by Mel of those years. Bullock, as “Chairman Extraordinaire” and to have the honor of the actual presentation at a graduation ceremony. It was a significant honor to have been the recipient of the second honorary degree awarded by MECC, having been preceded by an outstanding citizen, Judge William Fugate. Another wonderful experience was the annual picnic with three other SWVA Community Colleges. My most unforgettable event was a graduation ceremony, rained out and moved to PVHS at which I was the “Commencement Speaker.” Another experience was when representatives of the college were in Virginia Beach early in Ruth Smith’s term. Being anxious to make a good showing, she invited all in attendance to be her guests for dinner. After a very pleasant and fun-filled evening, Dr. Ruth called for the check at which time to her embarrassment she found that she had neither money nor 159


credit cards for payment. She quietly asked me to handle the payment. She was embarrassed but we had many good laughs over it. Major changes at the college that I have witnessed, other than the obvious physical changes, I would say I’ve seen the college go from a humble beginning to a major educational influence in the area. The informal and formal agreements with other institutions of higher learning provides an opportunity for our citizens to get any degree, certificate, or any education they desire and are willing to work for. To test the influences of MECC, just ask any young person working today if MECC touched their lives. The answer will probably be “yes.” From a business point of view, if you identify a need for education and training, MECC can be and is many times your only contact needed for the solution.

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My favorite memory……

othing ever touched me more, often bringing tears to my eyes, than when during graduation some older person would “walk” and from the back of the crowd a yell would be heard “way to go, Mom (Dad, Grandma, etc.).

Nothing ever touched me more, often bringing tears to my eyes, than when during graduation some older person would “walk” and from the back of the crowd a yell would be heard “way to go, Mom (Dad, Grandma, etc.).” I knew that many of those individuals had made many sacrifices to obtain their education. Many were even attending with their own children. – Harold Armsey

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The Nineties

1990 Board members at MECC - Left to Right: Bob Parks, Scott County; Harold Armsey, Chair, Wise County; Janet Strunk Settle, Wise/Norton; Ann Sturgill, Scott; Ruth Mercedes Smith, President; Edward Hutchinson, Wise County; E. Cecil Sumpter, Lee County; Joe Weatherly, Scott County. Not Pictured: Carol Grace, Lee County; Jean Fugate, Lee County; Greg Baker, Dickinson County. Beginning the nineties decade, MECC faced continued demands from growth and higher costs made more difficult by tighter budgets. If the eighties had been the college’s teen years, the nineties were early adulthood, including all the strains of mature responsibilities such as meeting financial obligations and finding new avenues of opportunity. With four buildings and the DMME facility nearing completion on the hill, MECC tackled defining its identity in a world of burgeoning electronic innovations, moving from the old, bulky computers to new, quicker, thinner, more person-friendly versions. The college entered the decade offering training institutes for employees in the area (including college personnel) covering topics such as Lotus 1, 2, 3; understanding DOS; intermediate WordPerfect; and dBase III. It would end the decade by offering microcomputer classes featuring topics in Microsoft Word, spreadsheet design, desk-top publishing, PageMaker, and other technological advances changing with greater and greater frequency. Another sweeping change loomed on MECC’s horizons, again as a result of advancing technology. MECC’s long history of off-campus programs, with many sites across the service area, would give way to video and computer-aided electronic classrooms. Distance education was about to evolve from traveling the highways of Southwest Virginia on LIT buses or by autos to flashing in milliseconds along optical cables and zipping through electric lines and arcing across wireless towers. By mid-decade, MECC would broadcast classes via fiber optics, and the college would 161


offer video conferencing via compressed video (H-323). Education went electronic; the “community” morphed from real to virtual. The other challenge of the 90s was economic. The decade began in recession. By 1995, the economy was experiencing growth; however, higher education was not reaping benefits of fat years. Lean years had brought caution that continued into the late 90s and was to affect community college budgets for most of the decade. Tuitions rose, salaries remained stagnant, while enrollments increased, bringing greater demands and stressing community colleges’ resources.

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istance education was about to evolve from traveling the highways of Southwest Virginia on LIT buses or by autos to flashing in milliseconds along optical cable and zipping through electric lines and arcing across wireless towers.

Budget Cuts – Donations — As the decade of the eighties closed, America’s economy confronted another recession that would affect higher education across the nation. Newspapers ran daily accounts of tightening budgets. Just before Christmas 1989, Governor Gerald Baliles announced cuts in state agencies to address a $181 million budget deficit. While MECC had already prepared a plan to cut one percent from its operating budget, a proposed second cut of one percent would go deeper. Dr. Ruth Smith did not expect the cuts to affect the quality of education, but she reported plans to limit spending on new equipment, to delay filling vacancies, to change methods of professional development, and to lower travel budgets. With higher enrollments expected, the cuts became even more difficult. A two percent reduction in college finances would distress normal operation, but Smith expected the college to continue as usual with “maximum use of our resources.” (Moore, 1989) In January with enrollments near 1,500 FTEs, Dr. Smith was hoping for new faculty hires and faculty pay increases of six percent. Governor Baliles, however, had set base pay rates to remain the same with no raises forthcoming. There were plans for two lump sum payments to come in July 1990 and January 1991 as bonuses. Virginia legislators fought for monies to support special programs, to expand college services and to renovate aging facilities. Delegate Jack Kennedy sponsored an amendment for $72,400 for a learning disabilities specialist to work with adults who could not read. The proposal included $15,000 for a mobile unit to offer services at various locations. Kennedy also sponsored amendments for $97,475 to expand MECC’s Center for Business, Industry and Government and $109,000 for renovation of Godwin Hall. Ford Quillen introduced a bill allocating $485,000 for a new road to provide access to the new DMME building on campus. By the middle of February, reports of state budget cuts had grown to $267 million, and state 162


agencies were asked to cut their budgets by six percent. MECC President Ruth Smith planned to talk with legislators while on a trip to Richmond to take part in the selection of a new VCCS chancellor. She commented that heavy budget cuts would affect plans for a telecommunications network to bring electronic classrooms to area homes. “We very much want to bring our courses into the home.” (Lester, 1990) If budgets were cut six percent, the college faced serious decisions that could affect faculty positions. Dr. Smith reported to MECC personnel that 88 percent of the 1989-90 college budget went to salaries and benefits, while five percent covered fixed costs and 5.5 percent went for supplies and professional development. Everett Sadler, Dean of Financial and Administrative Services at MECC, said he expected final budget appropriations by April with MECC’s final budget due in Richmond on July 1. One of MECC’s most revered and accomplished employees would be affected by the continuing budget woes. That individual was Mr. Ben Wheless, who retired in 1991. To him, MECC owed much.

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Ben Wheless – Chairman of Arts and Sciences —

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Ben Wheless was the “father” of Mountain Empire Community College. When the college opened in September 1972, Ben was the most experienced educator and leader on campus. He brought to the school an extensive background in teaching, administration, personnel and labor relations, and SACS self-study knowledge along with his long-established tradition of scholarship in academia. As a chairman and a mentor, he guided faculty and students—and often administrators—with sound judgment and “tough love.”

en Wheless was the “father” of Mountain Empire Community College.

Ben took responsibility early in life. In 1934 at the age of 13, when his father, a North Carolina merchant, cotton ginner and broker, died, Ben became “the man of the family.” He graduated from high school at 16, enrolled in classes at Campbell University, and entered the University of North Carolina as a junior at 17. In his first job as an accountant in 1941, he earned $12 a week. Ben led a life of commitment to church, community and college. His active role in the community and church led to his beginning seminary studies in 1973 with a goal of entering the priesthood. He was ordained to the Sacred Order of Episcopal Deacons and became minister of Christ Episcopal Church in Big Stone Gap in 1976 and served until June 30, 1992. “Father” Ben’s teachings and fellowship spread wide across and rooted genuinely within the area. At the college he was at the forefront of “The Tribe of Ben,” a compliment to his leadership. For students, his message was to face difficulties with resolve and to build futures on strength of mind and conscientious effort. As he said upon retiring:

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o be kind to everyone is to show the love of God.”

“To be kind to everyone is to show the love of God, the caring and compassion that is expected in the first and greatest commandment and the second commandment like unto it. That’s not to say we should be sappy or maudlin, but love can be a strong tool in changing mankind.” (Holyfield, Wheless will Continue to be Active after Retirement, 1992) My most unforgettable character would be Ben Wheless. He’s the man 164


that hired me, was my boss for several years, my mentor, and eventually a close friend. Ben was a universal man with many interests, besides being an economics professor and a higher education administrator. He was an Episcopal minister. He officiated at my daughter’s wedding, so that’s how close a person he was to our family. Ben really understood the importance of higher education. He was very involved with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and so he started off promoting and maintaining academic standards within the college; that’s one of the reasons why I really appreciated him. His focus on professional development and his encouragement for his entire faculty was really helpful. He had certain ways about him and it took me a while to learn him. He was one of those people that you always knew where you stood with him. When something hit him, he would come right in. There was one day when he came in and I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and not talk back when he was upset, but he went back to his office and I went to see him about an hour later. I sat down and talked to him and he was calmer. I noticed on his desk he had a little 4x5 frame and in that frame was a length zipper that had been on a piece of felt and I asked Mr. Wheless about its significance. He said, “Well my secretary at my previous place of employment put that on there to remind me that there are times that I ought to keep my mouth zipped.” I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about his wonderful wife, Millie. She did some of our stellar work in the community. Ben and Millie really believed in being involved in the community and they did their parts while he was at the community college and later when he was not. That is another great role model and it’s helped me over the years develop, not just as a teacher, but also as a person. One of the stories they tell about Ben and Millie being involved in academics is once a year they would travel to the Hotel Roanoke and share a meal in the dining room and both of them spoke French throughout the whole meal, and I was thinking: “Isn’t that kind of neat?” So he is my most unforgettable character. -Gary Bumgarner Perhaps the most unusual interview I had when starting my teaching career at Mountain Empire came when I met to discuss my future teaching plans with the department chairman Ben Wheless. Ben had been away from the campus during the summer months when I was hired. So the interview was supposed to center around my ideas about how the chemistry program should be organized, what should be its focus. How should the lab be related to lectures, etc? Although our interview began with technical matters, the subject quickly turned to a more personal level. Ben asked when my wife would be joining me in Big Stone and appeared agitated when he learned that she would probably continue to live in South Carolina. After learning that my wife was an archivist, he began to consider where and how she might be appropriately employed. The library at University of Tennessee in Johnson City was mentioned along with other suitable locations. 165


Of course over time I came to understand that Ben was a well-meaning and dedicated administrator, respected by almost everyone. With him it was possible to work out a productive and reasonably friendly modus vivendi. – Frank Brimelow My most unforgettable people at MECC have been Ben Wheless and Bill Carter. Both had a laser-like focus on student learning. Both challenged students to think – and to think critically. Both individuals recognized the need of collegiality in a college environment – and acted accordingly. So their colleagues learned as well – and students benefited in another way. Really, both Ben and Bill gave their lives to MECC. Such service is beyond most of us. – Reg St. Clair

Contributions and Head Start — To help with educational costs, MECC’s Foundation received several significant donations. George Pedro Hunnicutt, Jr. of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Norton presented the college with a check, and Jim Chambers of Stafford Communications, Inc. also presented a check to the college. Both organizations had been long-term supporters of educational scholarships. The local Kiwanis Club also presented scholarship checks to MECC’s Foundation. The Scott County Rotary Club gave $1,000 to MECC for an adult learning scholarship. Ada Vandeventer, representing Professional Secretaries International, awarded scholarships to two MECC students, Francine Soward of Pound and Becky Kilgore of Wise. The Lonesome Pine Library donated a check to provide tuition and supplies for rescue squad personnel students. Also, early in 1990, MECC received a grant from Virginia Tech to provide technical assistance in developing a heavy equipment operator curriculum for forestry products industries. The program would prepare students for employment in the forestry industry.

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By April, budget cuts were set and mandated at 5 percent by new y April, budget Governor Douglas Wilder. In an effort to offset losses, the VCCS cuts were set and approved a 3.9 percent tuition increase and a 7.6 percent surcharge in April. Governor Wilder was expected to endorse the higher costs mandated at 5 percent of education; however, he sent an amended proposal to Virginia’s by new Governor House of Delegates to cap tuition increases at community colleges Douglas Wilder. at 7.5 percent. The House approved his amended increases. MECC’s 3.9 percent tuition increase would stay in place, but the surcharge was lowered. Full-time students taking 15 credit hours would see tuition rise from $798 to $894. In the midst of tightening the budget, MECC had requested building facilities for a new Head Start program on campus to provide child care for parents with children while the parents attended classes. Dean Everett Sadler worked for a year pushing plans through the local advisory board, the state board, the attorney general’s office, and an architectural board to approve drawings. Two 166


small buildings would be “nestled like baby chicks between Godwin and Holton Halls, near a tiny play yard and large expanse of grassy, rolling lawn to accommodate the newcomers.” (Holyfield, MECC First Campus with Head Start, 1990) Three- and four-year-olds were coming to MECC. The children would have designated parking. The campus would never be the same. In actuality, the program never reached anticipated successes. MECC partnered with Head Start and set up a modular building behind Godwin Hall with a small playground for the children. Not enough people, however, participated in the program. Too few children came to MECC. After little more than a year, efforts to maintain the project were abandoned and the Head Start facilities closed. In March, David Pierce was named Chancellor of Virginia’s Community College System. He would serve the shortest term on record before moving on to a national position.

MECC Continues its Rich Tradition of Arts and Crafts — Valentino came to MECC in 1990. Jazz musician, Vinny Valentino, sponsored by the VCCS and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, spent the year as musician in residence on MECC’s campus. He was a 25-year-old guitarist who had studied and played jazz since he was six. MECC selected “Southwest Virginia in Literature” as its topic for the 1990 season of the Cultural and Humanities Series sponsored by the college’s Educational Foundation. The five-part program explored the lives and works of John Fox, Jr., Sherwood Anderson, Lee Smith, and Cathryn Hankla. Guest speakers were Dr. Grace Edwards from Radford University, Ms. Patricia Cantrell from Radford University, Dr. Charles Modlin from Virginia Tech, Dr. John Lang of Emory and Henry College, and Dr. Larry Richman from Virginia Highlands Community College. During Black History Month—February—photographer Wilburn Hayden spoke at MECC on black history in the region. MECC displayed an exhibit of his works in the C. Bascom Slemp Art Gallery. Mr. Hayden, an associate professor of social work and sociology at Western Carolina University, discussed the influences of blacks within small communities. Players on the Mountain performed “Jack and the Devil” on March 15 – 17. MECC student Donnie Campbell played Jack. The troupe performed two short plays, “Night Mother” and “The Actor’s Nightmare” on April 26 – 28. In December, Players presented a new kind of Christmas play, Sand Mountain. The play combined two short Appalachian plays for a comedy about celebrating the holiday season in the mountains. In late March, MECC held a talent show to raise money for HOPE House in Big Stone Gap. Fifteen student groups showed off their talents. Ron Flanary served as emcee. Sisters Hope and Missy Caudill of Norton won a $50 first prize for their rendition of “Consider the Lilies.” The program raised $200 for the home for abused women and children. 167


Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts and MECC sponsored the 1990 Annual Spring Arts and Crafts Show on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29, at the Big Stone Gap National Guard Armory. Artists and craftspeople displayed their works, ranging from toys to paintings. The 14th annual John Fox, Jr. Festival occurred on April 10, sponsored by MECC and the MECC Educational Foundation. Marcia Kibler was in charge of activities. Speakers included Walter H. Hendricks, past president of the Historical Society of Washington County, Va., and an expert on Daniel Boone. Mr. Hendricks spoke on Boone’s 28-year residency in Virginia. The second featured speaker was Cathryn Hankla of Washington and Lee University, author of A Blue Moon in Poorwater. Ms. Hankla spoke about her writing experiences. Ron Willoughby, a native of Appalachia and a physics professor at Radford University, won first prize in the festival’s short story contest. Pro-Art continued into its fifteenth season with a rich tradition of artistic and humanities programs at the college. In August, Pro-Art brought I Remain, Forever, Ivy Rowe, a play adapted from Lee Smith’s novel, Tender Ladies, to MECC. The one-person play starred highly accomplished actress Barbara Smith from Tampa, Florida. In October, Pro-Arts brought An Evening with Shaw to MECC. “Uncle” Charlie Osborne, 99-year-old fiddler from Russell County, made an encore appearance at MECC’s 18th annual Home Craft Days on October 20 and 21. Along with Osborne, Dale Jett, a grandson of A. P. Carter, demonstrated his musical talents at the festival. Once again, participation and attendance bolstered the event’s success, as approximately 150 exhibitors took part, performing their artistic and craft skills for some 14,000 visitors. Sunny skies, toe-tapping music, and master-crafting highlighted a fun-filled day. MECC became an international player in politics and economics when Vladimir Sakharov, former KGB officer and Russian defector, spoke to approximately 100 people on October 30 as part of the college’s Fall Culture Series. Sakharov brought favorable news. With Mikhail Gorbachev’s opening of Soviet business doors to western enterprises, Sakharov suggested that American coal producers should open markets to Russia. The college held its annual Gala benefits dinner and dance at the Lonesome Pine Country Club on Saturday, November 10. The event raised funds for MECC’s Educational Foundation. Marcia Kibler directed Gala activities. The Business Technologies Division offered microcomputer classes to upgrade skills of office personnel in the area as technology continued to require learning new skills to meet ever-changing needs. Peggy Rusek and her dedicated faculty also offered seminars in human relations and communication skills.

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Honors — MECC had its share of honors, awards, and contest victories during 1990. Heading the list of honorees was Dr. Chuks Ogbonnaya, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science at MECC. Chuks won The Community, Technical, and huks won The Community, Junior College Times Teaching Excellence Award, Technical, and Junior announced in the journal’s April 24th issue. Dr. Ogbonnaya was cited for his motivating teaching College Times Teaching style as a major factor in his winning the award. Excellence Award, announced in Chuks was one of only 12 teachers nationwide to be the journal’s April 24th issue. so honored. “If you’re on the same level with your students, you can easily recognize when they are having problems and be able to help them,” he said. “I can relate to that from my past experiences.” (Dean, 1990)

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Dr. Ogbannaya was not done, however. Within a month he was one of four educators in the state system to be chosen as a VCCS Chancellor’s Commonwealth Professor. The two-year appointment included a $2,500 stipend for each year and release time to pursue a self-directed project. Dr. Ogbannaya was described in the announcement of his honor as “an active research agronomist, a scholar, and an inspirational community college teacher. . . . He feels strongly that both he and his students benefit from challenging and intense inquiry.” (Igo, Ogbannaya: MECC Prof Chosen for VCCS Appointment, 1990) MECC President Ruth Smith was appointed to the Commission on Small and Rural Colleges of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges. Her term began on July1, 1990, and ended on June 30, 1993. The twelve-member commission studied problems confronting colleges and developed papers suggesting actions the AACJC might take to address those problems. Rosemary Fleming was named Site Coordinator of the Year by PRIDE (Providing a Rural Initiative for Developing Education) at MECC’s annual awards program. Ms. Fleming worked with 36 adult students, including 6 non-native speakers of English, at the Clintwood PRIDE site. Rosemary and other PRIDE participants joined together on April 27 at the Ramada Inn at Duffield in festivities highlighted by the awarding of diplomas by Dr. Ruth Smith. Academic Dean Norman Scott spoke to the 182 attendees.

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udge William C. Fugate was awarded MECC’s first honorary degree at the college’s graduation ceremonies on May 12.

Judge William C. Fugate was awarded MECC’s first honorary degree at the college’s graduation ceremonies on May 12. Judge Fugate had served on MECC’s first College Advisory Board. His wife Jean served on the 1990 College Board. Linwood Holton, former Governor of Virginia and a native of Big Stone Gap, was keynote speaker at graduation. He encouraged students to take advantage of opportunities. “It’s thrilling to reflect, when you are a speaker at such an event, that you were born right over the hill and helped make some changes in the area.” (MECC News Release, 1990)

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High school Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) students from the area garnered honors at MECC’s Business and Technologies Division annual business contests. Prizes were awarded in accounting, business English, business math, and several other criteria. Shirley Wells and Leah Hicks directed the activities. MECC’s first PRIDE graduate, Nina Beverly of Clintwood, moved from student to teacher’s aide in the PRIDE program. When she began the program, Beverly read on the third-grade level. After completing her classes, she read on the high school level and also read the Bible. Using her new reading and study skills, she taught Sunday school at her church.

Transitions — MECC lost three college professors at the end of spring semester. Roberta Kelly, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, moved to Oregon. Walter Holden, Associate Professor of English, returned to his native New Hampshire to write. Pat Miller, Instructor of Business, retired with plans to travel with her husband Bill. Earl C. Johnston stepped down from MECC’s College Board after two terms. Mr. Johnston had served eight years as the representative from Lee County. Despite cuts in budgets, which caused MECC to revert a $50,000 contingency fund, the college not only made it through 1990, it increased its full-time enrollment by close to 200 students. A head count of 1,059 students enrolled during fall semester. News was not all good, however, as the college made plans to cut three positions in spring 1991. It was a difficult decision, and it would be questioned and debated in future years.

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1991 Indeed, 1991 began with layoffs. President Ruth Smith announced that two classified, one administrative, and one faculty position would be eliminated. VCCS Chancellor David Pierce had granted financial emergency status to MECC in October 1990 because of the $500,000 reduction in the budget caused by state cuts. The college did manage to avoid laying off a second faculty member because of a retirement. There are challenges that are inherent in this type of organization like multiple policies and processes that don’t always seem to add value. We have had many budget reductions over the years that have been very difficult to manage. I think the budget reduction in 1991 was the most difficult because it led to the elimination of positions, and the people in those positions were our co-workers and, in some cases, our friends. I believe the administration tried to be as fair as possible by eliminating one position from each of the college’s larger administrative units, but the result was that the pain was felt across the entire college. – Patti Cantrell The college, however, pulled together with the help of donations and grants. The C. Bascom Slemp Foundation donated $10,000 at the beginning of the year to fund books and materials for the library. The donation was both timely and crucial, since it replaced some funding lost in the state budget, and the library had nearly eliminated its funding for books. MECC’s GAIN program received approval to continue its services to low-income, first-generation and physically challenged students through renewal of its annual grant. The U. S. Department of Education awarded the college GAIN staff with $100,993 for 1990-91. Hope Hancock directed the program and was the lead writer of the successful grant. The Nalco Foundation of Naperville, Illinois, continued its support of MECC’s Educational Foundation with an $8,000 donation. Nalco funds were earmarked specifically for MECC’s summer Magnet School for math and sciences. In addition, a new grant from the Virginia Community College System increased MECC’s financial aid coffers by more than $250,000. Out of 23 colleges in the VCCS, MECC received the fourth largest allocation. If I had to name one accomplishment that had the most impact on students attending MECC during my tenure, it would be the development of the here is one thing best financial aid program in the State of Virginia. I was fortunate to be able to build a reputation with the central staff about it, if you in Richmond of always being willing to accept any financial ever send money aid dollars and distribute them to students when no one else over the mountain in the state wanted the funds. Joe Barden who was Director to Perry, that money of Student Services and responsible for distributing financial aid dollars to the schools would say, “There is one thing never comes back.

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about it, if you ever send money over the mountain to Perry, that money never comes back.” Our financial aid staff extended the best customer service of any college aid office in the state. We were always getting end-of-year financial aid dollars to distribute to our students that other colleges turned back because they could not spend it. MECC always had the highest percentage of enrolled students receiving financial aid of all the twenty-three community colleges. – Perry Carroll In another effort to offset loss of funds, MECC, along with Virginia’s other colleges, increased tuition. It was the third tuition increase within one year. Student costs rose from $28.80 to $35 per credit hour; full-time (fifteen hours) tuition increased from $447 to $535, including fees.

Budget Cuts Do Not Stop Cultural Activities — On January 19, the Virginia Tech Department of Theatre and The Road Company of Johnson City presented Jo Carson’s new play, A Preacher with a Horse to Ride. The play told the story of labor disputes in Harlan, Kentucky, in 1931. It was based on a personal account of writer Theodore Dreiser, who attempted to promote communism in Eastern Kentucky and across America through worker discontent. Remarkably, MECC kept its artist in residence guitarist for another year under funding from the VCCS’s Virginia Artist Program. Classical guitarist and composer Jonathan Romeo performed at the college and at various schools, churches, civic groups and other community organizations in the service area. He presented a lyric ensemble with violinist Cecil Hooker at MECC’s DaltonCantrell auditorium on March 21.

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e thought: Everybody wants a cabin on the river!

When Jonathan Romeo came to MECC as artist in residence, he wanted to live in an authentic cabin by a river. We thought: Everybody wants a cabin on the river! Well, we looked around and, sure enough, we found a cabin on the river in Hiltons. But when we approached the owner, he said, “I don’t want to rent it. I’ve never had any luck with renters. They never pay their rent.” I told him, “This is a pretty good guy. You ought to give him a chance.” Well, he did rent the cabin to Jonathan, and, when I saw the owner later, he told me, “You won’t believe it! That young man is paying the rent.” – Sue Ella Boatright-Wells

MECC’s Players on the Mountain presented The Glass Menagerie to audiences in Dalton-Cantrell auditorium on April 11 – 13. Jennifer Wilson, a 1990 Powell Valley High School graduate, said she drew from her personal experiences as a shy teenager to play the role of Laura. She said the pain of being shy overwhelmed her for many years, but her stage experiences helped her overcome that shyness. “I learned that when I stepped out on stage, I’m not Jennifer any more. I’m the character I’m playing, and the audience becomes almost not-existent to me.” (Holyfield, MECC Cast Draws from Life Experiences to Create Illusion, 1991)

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Bo Bryson played Jim the “Gentleman Caller” in the play; James Rainey played the narrator Tom; and Mary Kuczko Adams played the mother Amanda. As an annual part of its cultural and historical series, the college celebrated Black History Month in February. Harvi Griffin, world-renowned instrumentalist, performed a diverse program from Bach to Brubeck on various instruments including the piano and the harp in Dalton-Cantrell auditorium on January 30.

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ee Smith, author of the widely received novel Oral History, was the keynote speaker at the 15th annual John Fox, Jr. Festival.

Lee Smith, author of the widely received novel Oral History, was the keynote speaker at the 15th annual John Fox, Jr. Festival at MECC on April 23. Smith spoke on the tradition of oral history in the region.

Continuing its efforts to promote art and to serve the community, the college hosted the Cumberland District Forensic Competitions on Saturday, February 16, 1991. Students from Ervinton, Rye Cove, Twin Springs, St. Paul, and Thomas Walker High Schools competed in various contest categories. MECC’s faculty and staff, always willing to serve in public and community activities, judged student performances. The college formed a partnership with Virginia Tech and Southwest Virginia Community College to begin a small business center in the area. The center was supported by the surrounding eight counties and two cities, the U. S. Small Business Administration, and the Small Business Development Center of the Virginia Department of Economic Development. Its mission was to help small businesses create jobs for local citizens. Peggy Rusek, Director of MECC’s Center for Business, Industry and Government, planned to have a project director at MECC by mid-May.

Commencements and Goings — More than 250 MECC graduates received degrees and certificates at the 19th graduation ceremonies on May 10. VCCS Chancellor David Pierce told the graduates, “To commence means to begin. Your commencement should be a start of a lifetime of new beginnings, of new career options and opportunities.” (Holyfield, Outgoing Chancellor Pierce Encourages MECC Graduates to Continue Education, 1991) Dr. Pierce himself was beginning anew. After a brief stint as Chancellor of the VCCS, he left his post to accept the presidency of the American Association of Community, Junior and Technical Colleges. Also, in May, after three years as president of MECC, Ruth Smith announced her resignation to accept a position as president of Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois. Edward Hutchinson, Chair of MECC’s Board, said of Dr. Smith, “She’s well thought of here. She’s done more in a short time than some people do in 20 years.” Marcia Quesenberry added, “We knew 173


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uring that process while snacking on cookies, I got choked and was Heimliched by the Chancellor.

when she came that she was a real vibrant, assertive person and she’s done such a good job.” (MECC News Release, 1991)

During the search for a president after Dr. Ruth Smith resigned, the College Board met at the John Fox, Jr. House and formulated the criteria and qualifications to use in the search. I was designated to meet with the VCCS Chancellor at Wytheville Community College to select applicants to be interviewed. During that process while snacking on cookies, I got choked and was Heimliched by the Chancellor. Later I selected a candidate named Sandel for the VCCS to check out. He and my mother’s step mother came from the same small town in South Carolina. – Edward R. Hutchinson

The search for a new president began immediately. At its June meeting, the College Board presented Dr. Smith with a photograph of an aerial view of the college, and issued a statement that it planned to have the new president on campus by November. By July 26, the VCCS chancellor had set minimum qualifications; on August 1, the chancellor and the board chairman planned to screen candidates and reduce the pool. State level interviews were scheduled to begin on September 5. The advisory committee selected applicants to recommend to the VCCS Board for certification. After certification and interviews in September, the chancellor planned to negotiate a job offer with the preferred candidate. VCCS Interim Chancellor Dr. Freddie W. Nicholas, Sr., announced in mid-October that Dr. Robert H. Sandel of Orangeburg, South Carolina, would be MECC’s fourth president. Dr. Sandel was scheduled to assume his duties at MECC in January 1992. Dr. Sandel arrived well qualified, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in business Administration from the Citadel, a Master’s Degree in Education/Business Education from South Carolina State College, and a Doctorate in Education/ Administration from the University of South Carolina.

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Dr. Robert Sandel “The most important function of the college is to meet student needs. They need to be getting their money’s worth. The thing we need to remember is to maintain academic integrity even in difficult times.” – Robert Sandel at the announcement of his appointment (Thomason, 1991) In 1991, I was the Vice–President of Academic and Student affairs at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter, South Carolina. I knew that I was at that point in my career that I was ready to become a community college president. I thought my best opportunity would be at a small or mid-sized college, preferably in the Southeastern part of the United States. At that time, Virginia had two colleges that were looking for presidents. One was Mountain Empire and the other was New River. I applied for the Mountain Empire position but had to look on a map to find where Big Stone Gap, Virginia, was located. I basically said to myself, “Let’s apply and see what happens.” In the meantime, Jane and I took a trip from Sumter to Big Stone Gap to see where the college was and to take a look at the campus and surrounding area. The trip from Sumter was an easy drive and once we got through Kingsport, Tennessee, we were awed during the last twenty miles by the mountains and rugged terrain. My first impression of the college was that it was a small campus but a beautiful one. We pulled into the parking lot and began walking around the campus. I will never forget that we ran into one of the security guards and asked was it all right to walk around. He gave us permission and was very polite. The part that I will never e said if we forget is that the guard asked what we were doing in the area. He said if we were looking to live here that we should reconsider. He mentioned were looking the loss of jobs, the declining population base, and its distance from a to live here that we large city. He didn’t know who I was and to this day I don’t think he ever should reconsider. remembered that I was that visitor.

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A few weeks after I applied for the MECC job, I received a letter from the VCCS stating that I would be granted an interview. I went to Richmond, had the interview and went back home. I told Jane that I felt very good about the interview and had high hopes that I would be a finalist. I did become a finalist and came to Big Stone Gap with Jane for my on-campus interview. I remember the experience well. I met many 175

He mentioned the loss of jobs, the declining population base, and its distance from a large city.


people, spoke to various college groups, and had interviews with College Board members. The experience was an enjoyable one and I felt everything was very positive. I specifically remember my conversations with Don Puyear, Glenda Wilson, Bob Parks, Rhoda Bliese, Sharon Fisher, Marcia Quesenberry, Ed Hutchinson, and John Cotham. They were very responsive to my thoughts and ideas. I was sure there were other good applicants but I had done my best and now would wait to see where the “chips” would fall. About 10 days later, I was home working in the yard when Jane said I had a phone call. I took the call and was surprised that it was the VCCS Interim Chancellor, who informed me that I had been the college’s selection as president. He congratulated me, told me the salary and asked if I would take the position. Jane and I had already discussed the answer if the call happened. We graciously accepted the job and would report to work on January 2, 1992. The Sandel era at Mountain Empire was to begin. As a new president, I wanted to do something that would have a positive initial impact on the college.It had to be something that involved a large number of faculty and staff. This was an effort on my part to demonstrate to all that success at MECC involved participatory involvement -- working together for a single purpose. In my opinion, if we could look at key work processes in the college and strive to make them more effective and efficient, this would signal a new way of doing business. It said to our employees that they were important, their ideas and thoughts were listened to, every job in the college was critical, and that as the new president I valued everyone and the contributions they were making. In essence, the college was only as good as the people who worked there every day, people who focused each day on making a positive impact on students and their fellow employees.

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e brought in one of Tennessee Eastman’s top managers, Vic Dingus, who was an expert on total quality management.

We brought in one of Tennessee Eastman’s top managers, Vic Dingus, who was an expert on total quality management. He would be our facilitator. Sharon Fisher from MECC was the key college staff member that coordinated this entire process for the duration of this project. Her leadership was outstanding and her great belief in this effort kept us going full steam from the first day. We ended up funding this effort for two years with our Eastman facilitator and then continued the process on our own. The result was MECC won the U.S. Senate Total Quality Management Award, a new president let his faculty know that he was accessible and respected them and their opinions, and the college became a better place to work and to serve students. I also learned that the college had a staff that was diligent, hard working, and sincerely gave the president the support he needed. A bond had been formed and for nine years the college moved forward. As Vic Dingus would say, “The transformation was happening.”

After my first year at MECC, we all celebrated by joining together for a Christmas party at the Ramada Inn in Duffield. Jane and I have always liked to dance, especially the Shag. It is sometimes referred to as the Carolina Shag, and it started in Myrtle Beach back in the 50s. We made a point at our annual Christmas parties to have a variety of music and we included “beach music” that was perfect for Shag dancing. It seemed to catch on with our faculty and staff and we all had a great time. The Electric Slide was another dance that Jane liked and that became a favorite for 176


the ladies more than the men. The Electric Slide was done individually in a large group. The Christmas parties held in Duffield at the Ramada Inn were special events. We always had large crowds, great food, entertainment, and I had an opportunity to be with employees outside my daily work environment. We indeed had a wonderful group of faculty and staff; they were fun to be with. During my nine years as president, we had three outstanding state representatives for our service region that were great supporters of MECC. There was Senator William Wampler, Delegate Bud Phillips, and Delegate Terry Kilgore. I need to also include Delegate Ford Quillen who helped me learn the politics of the area in my first few years as president. He later left the legislature to become a Judge. Each one was sincere in his support of the college and they all went out of their way to assist in any way possible. I can never forget how Delegate Terry Kilgore worked with me to get additional money to pay for Phillips–Taylor Hall. Once the bids for the project were opened, we unfortunately were almost two million dollars short of the funding necessary to build the building we wanted. The two of us spent a great deal of time with Senator Wampler, who in his position on the Senate Finance Committee, worked out a special appropriation to cover the two million dollars. We are forever indebted to the senator for making this happen. It was not an easy task to get the money. All three of our representatives also helped us get sufficient funding to finish the loop road around the campus in addition to many other projects that we now see at MECC: parking lots, building renovations, corridors, and equipment for special projects. No college president could ask for three better legislators to work with for Southwest Virginia and MECC. Today (2009), all three are still serving the college. What a team! From the first day that I arrived on campus, I wanted to work diligently on enhancing the college’s image through beautification of the college’s grounds, renovation of buildings, and the building of new facilities to meet student and community needs. We made sure that a sufficient budget was available to maintain the high priority for our buildings and grounds to keep the campus in excellent condition. The three key staff members that helped me in this endeavor were Patti Cantrell, Sharon Fisher, and Gary Nickles. Patti Cantrell, the college’s financial vice president, worked diligently with me to have a sixyear construction plan that addressed the building and renovation needs for our campus. It was important that we made sure to keep this plan updated to ensure that MECC got its fair share of VCCS dollars. We made a number of renovations and upgrades to the campus. The culmination of our efforts was the building of Phillips–Taylor Hall, a building like no other on campus. A state of the art building that was a “showplace” for MECC. It made us all proud. One of the college’s outstanding employees was Gary Nickles who was in charge of buildings and grounds. He was someone who would make things happen and show positive results. He transformed our campus into a site with beautiful grounds, clean buildings, rapid response service to faculty needs, and he kept me fully up to date on the status of our buildings, equipment, and facility needs. I used each day to always say positive things to everyone who would listen about Mountain Empire Community College and how it was an integral part of the economic engine that would help the Mountain Empire Region grow and prosper. We had a college that was student and business oriented 177


and one that worked hard each day to make that statement a reality. We made every effort to help our students succeed in their academic endeavors and then transfer to a four-year college or to go into the world of work. We saw enrollment growth on a continuous basis during my tenure at the college. We also made a concerted effort to assist our business and industry partners with the education and training they desired. We would work on their schedules and at their work sites if needed. We wanted our businesses to fully understand that MECC was making them a top priority. Because of the hard work of our faculty and staff, our image began to strengthen with students, area high schools, parents, and regional business and industry clients.

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ecause of the hard work of our faculty and staff, our image began to strengthen with students, area high schools, parents, and regional business and industry clients.

I was very fortunate as the President of Mountain Empire Community College to work with some outstanding College Board chairmen such as Larry Jackson, Ed Hutchinson, Brownie Polly, Bruce Robinette, and Cecil Sumpter. The chairs each had a unique leadership style and personality. To be quite honest, I enjoyed every minute that I worked with them on college projects or college events. They all were true gentlemen and very wise in their counsel to me on many opportunities. They gave their time and effort to MECC because they saw the true value of the college and how it had such a positive impact on so many of the region’s citizens. They sincerely cared about MECC and saw the college as a place that could really make a difference for the people of far Southwest Virginia. We had board members like Joe Weatherly, Sue Mays, and Bob Parks from Scott County who were tremendous assets to the constituents they represented. It was a pleasure to work with them during their association with Mountain Empire. Harold Armsey from Norton was a friend and supporter of mine from my first day on the job. He and his wife Betty went out of their way to help Jane and me become a part of the region and get to know the wonderful people of our service area. I developed great respect and admiration for Brownie Polly of BSG. He was a low-key leader that provided excellent advice and assisted me in certain instances to address potential “hot� issues appropriately. I have only the highest regards for Dr. Polly. He was a terrific board chair that was very knowledgeable and had a keen understanding of Southwest Virginia. He was very perceptive and smart in his dealings with people. He could quickly read the inner motives of individuals who had issues with the college. I enjoyed his calm demeanor and the support he gave to me on various college and regional issues. Jane and I always enjoyed being with Brownie and his wife Barbara.

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ecil was a friend and excellent board chair.

Cecil Sumpter from Lee County became a close friend and someone that I always enjoyed working with. He cared about people and was a positive leader for our college. Cecil was a friend and excellent board chair. He and I established a close working relationship and together we worked diligently to move Mountain Empire Community College to a major leadership position in the region. He was very professional in his leadership of the college and many initiatives were accomplished by MECC under his Chairmanship.

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Ed Hutchinson, or “Hutch,” was my first board chair. He was quite a man with a great sense of humor and at times would spout poetry or some other words of wisdom. He was a delight to work with and he had a keen interest in the college helping those less fortunate. I remember Larry Jackson, who was the head of Westmoreland Coal, asking me to take a visit down into some coal mines in the region. It was obviously a new experience for me but I was not one to refuse the offer. My venture down into the depths of the coal mine was an experience that I will never forget. I am not sure I would want to do it again but it greatly increased my respect for the many men and women in the area who worked in the mines. Jane and I had an opportunity to take a college trip with Larry and his wife June that we thoroughly enjoyed. They were a wonderful couple and fun to be with.

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ruce Robinette was a leader in all endeavors he undertook.

Bruce Robinette was a leader in all endeavors he undertook. Bruce was a mentor for me during my years at the college. He possessed such a wealth of information on knowledge and history of Southwest Virginia that I could go to him and “pick his brain” about regional issues--politics, individuals, and just about anything and he would provide me with helpful information. He knew what needed to be done and didn’t hesitate to move forward and accomplish the task. I learned a lot from Bruce about the history of the college and the region. He taught me about the dynamics of regional politics and why specific issues could be accomplished or not. Bruce was a visionary that helped the region move forward. He took many tough stands on issues that he determined would be beneficial to the people of the coalfields. It was fun to work with Bruce because he told it like it was and he sincerely believed in what MECC was doing for the area. On the foundation side, I enjoyed working with Bob Isaac and Buzz Witt. They both gave of their time to assist our college to move forward. We could depend on both of them to help us with any event and their leadership helped the MECC Foundation become a leader in the VCCS. For a mid-sized rural college, our foundation was always on or near the top in funds raised and grants obtained. A college president always remembers someone who was a great employee or a special “hire” during their tenure. I was fortunate to hire Donna Stanley for the position of executive director of the college foundation. She had worked many years for Congressman Rick Boucher and was ready to make a career change and settle down in one place in the region. I knew she was smart and had many contacts in Southwest Virginia, but that was just a fraction of her talents. Donna completely transformed the college’s foundation and grants offices. She was knowledgeable of the region’s politics and knew where possible donation monies and grant dollars were to be found. In addition, she did everything in a first-class manner no matter what the task or project. Whether working on a grant, organizing a college event, meeting with prospective donors, or giving the president advice, she was without question the best resource developer I have ever worked with. It was also during my presidency that we asked a potential donor for a gift of $1,000,000. This request became a reality when the Slemp Foundation made that gift to the college. I must say that Donna Stanley, by her hard work and excellent reputation in the region, played a major part in making this happen. One success after another has continued from the early years of her 179


employment. I would proudly say that Mountain Empire Community College, for its size and rural region that it serves, has been a national leader in foundation resource growth. Finally, I must say that Donna is a wonderful person who works diligently to help those less fortunate. We have many families in the coalfields today who have clean water because of Donna’s efforts in establishing and getting funds for the Coalfield Water project.It was my pleasure to work with her on a daily basis. She is a lady of extraordinary vision and caring for the people of Southwest Virginia.

What others say about President Robert Sandel — Dr. Sandel had many “sayings” that became familiar quotations around the college. Two of his favorites were: “Do what’s right” and “Perceptions will kill you” – Glenda Wilson Anytime I did something that meant I was in trouble, Dr. Sandel would say to me, “Debbie, you’re in the mud now!” – Debbie Kindle

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1992—Celebrating Twenty Years of Service Beginning its twentieth year, MECC held the distinction of enrolling increasing numbers of adults. Approximately one-half of all college-bound high school graduates chose MECC. The fullyestablished college offered forty programs of study along with other services such as its new Small Business Development Center, which provided assistance to existing and beginning businesses. Once again the college had to search for ways to meet financial challenges. Enrollments had risen each year and were looking strong for Spring Semester 1992. President Robert Sandel advised the college’s Advisory Board in February that he expected the state to cut an additional 5 percent from the college’s budget, a total of $211,000. Governor Wilder granted colleges permission to raise tuition as much as 24 percent to offset losses. That increase seemed excessive to Sandel and to others. After consultation, Sandel settled on a $6 increases in tuition, raising costs from $35 per credit hour to $41. In-state students who had been paying $1,050 for two semesters of full-time credits would pay $1,230 beginning fall semester. Local sponsors stepped up with scholarships to help students meet tuition and book costs. Lee Memorial Gardens established a scholarship in memory of B. W. “Billy” Frazier to provide assistance to students from Scott County majoring in business, politics, science, or a related field. Ronnie Montgomery and Terry Estep made the first contribution toward endowing the scholarship. Zakie Wakin, representing Glenmary Council #7853, Knights of Columbus, presented a check to MECC toward aiding students in need. Martha Rhoton set up a scholarship in the names of her parents, E. J. and Nell B. Rhoton. E. J. had served forty-two years in Scott County as a teacher, coach, and principal. Nell Rhoton had retired after twenty-five years as a teacher’s aide and secretary of Rye Cove High School. New types of financial aid became available at MECC during 1992. The college won an additional $448,000 to help middle-income students who previously had not been eligible for financial aid.

Promotions — Mr. James “Jim” L. Durham became MECC’s Chairman of the Arts and Sciences Division in the spring of 1992. He had been the first math teacher hired at the college in 1972, and had taught math, chemistry, and tennis. He had served during Fall Semester 1991 as interim chair. Jim replaced Dr. Charles Bunting, who resigned to take a position in Alabama. In June of 1972, Martha Turnage, Peggy Smith, and I were chosen to attend a two week conference at VPI. It was conducted by Dr. Jack Lavery, brother of Dr. William Lavery, then President of VPI. The workshop was Group Dynamics and Career Development. Group Dynamics 181


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had such a positive impact on us that when we returned to Holton Hall, we adopted the concept for all the faculty inservice training during the month of August. We had groups of all sorts with Martha, Peggy, and me leading. I distinctly remember one group when Vaughan was a member and everyone was instructed to use first names only. He replied he was the president and would be referred to as Dr. Vaughan, not George. To this day, he still is Dr. Vaughan to Peggy and me. I remember opening day of faculty and staff in-service, one of the tasks was to go to someone we didn’t know, introduce ourselves, talk to each other for five minutes and then introduce that person to the entire group. My person to introduce was none other than Peggy Beverly, who knew of me through my father who was a customer of her husband Charles’s company. We became friends. – Jim Durham

e replied that he was the president and would be referred to as Dr. Vaughan, not George.

Patti Wolfe Cantrell was named Dean of Financial and Administrative Services in March 1992. She had served the college for many years in financial services, and she was pursuing a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management from Tusculum College. In January 1980, when I was hired as a full-time employee in the business office, one of my duties was to manually record every expenditure transaction in a ledger. The first automated accounting system for the VCCS was just being implemented so it was only a few weeks before the manual ledger was history. In 1980 MECC’s purchasing authority was $50 and anything above $50 had to go through Richmond to be purchased. Now, in 2009, we have departments that have $5,000 purchasing authority. The best thing about my MECC experience has been the opportunities and support I was given to complete my education. That wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement and support I received from the faculty, administration, and staff at MECC. I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people in a career that contributes to providing that same life-changing experience for others—it doesn’t get much better than that! 1992 was a noteworthy year in my career because it was my first year as Dean, it was the year my daughter graduated from MECC, and it was the first and only year that the graduation ceremony had to be held off-campus due to rain. Moving graduation to Powell Valley High School was a big, wet, mess! Fortunately for those of us involved in making that decision, the rain continued all day and all evening. If the clouds had parted and the sun had come out just in time for graduation that evening, I think several of us would have cried! Also noteworthy are some of the “characters” who were with us for varying lengths of time but touched us in some way. I remember: Cathy Beason and her stack of cards, Mel Bullock in his Santa hat, Nita Nelson laughing, Everett Sadler roller skating in the hallway, Cheryl Richardson’s smile, Frank Pleasant watching 182


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graduation from the breezeway, Amy Barker flat-footing, Frank Dalton telling jokes, James “Cowboy” Bledsoe’s grin, Joe Givens calling me “hon,” and others like them that I still miss.

he small, familylike group that existed in 1979 has changed, but MECC has only gotten better at reaching and serving our students.

The biggest change in the college facilities I have seen is PhillipsTaylor Hall. Phillips-Taylor Hall not only provided much needed academic space, it also provided space for community use and has become a very popular venue for community events. I think the growth in students and employees that led to the funding for Phillips-Taylor Hall and the placement of that building at the top of the campus has also changed our culture. The small, familylike group that existed in 1979 has changed, but MECC has only gotten better at reaching and serving our students. – Patti Cantrell

The best thing about MECC is the people--faculty, staff, and students. Southwest Virginians in general and MECC folks in particular are warm and friendly people. From the moment I first arrived on campus, I have felt right at home here. My fondest memory of MECC is the first time I set foot on campus for a job interview. It was a gorgeous summer day, and the campus and mountains were beautiful. But the best part was my interview with the screening committee comprised of Gary Nickles, Mike Cook, Carolyn Reynolds, and Alice Harrington. All four were gracious and friendly and made me feel relaxed. But Carolyn and Alice were in a particularly “silly” mood and kept laughing about something that now escapes my memory. Their humor was infectuous, so much of the interview was spent with me and the four interviewers laughing--although they did manage to ask me very good questions. By far, this was the most fun job interview I have ever attended. I left thinking that it would be so much fun to work with Alice and Carolyn, and I have not been disappointed in the least. Jim and Peggy Durham will always remain among my most unforgettable people at MECC. As my immediate supervisor when I first came to MECC, Jim, with his broad grin and hearty laugh, made sure that I was given a warm welcome to the college. However, he and Peggy also went out of their way to help me get settled in Big Stone Gap. Since I was hired late in the summer, only a couple of weeks before the start of classes, Jim and Peggy took me in as a guest in their home for several days while I searched for an apartment. They made me feel right at home, helped me find my way around the area, and fed me very well. What a boss! How many supervisors will not only hire you, but also give you free room and board! – Jim Burns

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Twenty Years and Growing — MECC graduated 231 students in May 1992. For the first time in twenty years, rain forced graduation ceremonies indoors, and commencement was held at Powell Valley High School. Former MECC Board Chairman Harold Armsey addressed the graduates concerning the boom or bust economy the country was experiencing. “The way to make change is to take action,” Armsey said. “You will get nowhere by standing still. God has a plan for each of you far greater than you can imagine for yourself, but you must be willing to experience it.” (Holyfield, MECC Grads Hear Challenge from Former Chairman, 1992) The criminal justice faculty at the college began a new two-year degree curriculum in corrections aimed at training professionals to work at new prison facilities in the area. Red Onion Prison planned to open in July 1995, employing between 300 and 350 people. The Lee County federal prison was also in planning stages. MECC assistant professor of criminal justice Cindy Mongle emphasized that these facilities would hire people from Southwest Virginia if qualified people were available. The new program would train local people with qualifications by the time positions became available.

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r. Chuks Ogbonnaya, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, continued to receive accolades for his work at MECC.

Dr. Chuks Ogbonnaya, Associate Professor of Environmental Science, continued to receive accolades for his work at MECC. He led the Powell River Project to research red oak and black walnut growth on surface mined properties reclaimed with sludge, sawdust, and fertilizer. Dr. Ogbonnaya’s research center was operated by Virginia Tech and was part of Renew America’s 1992 initiatives.

For his research, Professor Ogbonnaya won a Certificate of Achievement from Renew America Inc. John Jester of Renew America stated that Dr. Ogbannaya’s project “appears to have gotten extremely high marks from everybody on our staff who evaluated it.” (Igo, MECC Professor Honored for Sludge Research, 1992) MECC instructor of mathematics Chris Allgyer joined with four teachers from Wise County Schools at a two-week “JEDI” Workshop at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. The workshop provided advanced training in teaching earth science with the aid of computers. MECC joined a consortium with George Mason University and The University of Virginia’s Center for Public Service in Wise to bring JEDI to teachers and students. The college served as the site for Wise County youth to learn about mining safety during Coal Industry Safety Days September 10 and 11, 1992. Sponsored by the Virginia Mining Association, the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, and local coal industry groups, the program featured actor David Browning in a short play written by Dink Shackleford, Director of the Virginia Mine Association. Browning recounted several tales about coal mining and its history. Fall enrollment for 1992 looked good. With 2,300 students registered by August, the college needed more classroom space. Virginia State Lottery proceeds intended for capital improvements had been 184


diverted to the state’s general fund. Previously allocated funds for renovation of Godwin Hall had been recalled twice due to state fiscal crises. MECC looked to recoup monies for Godwin Hall’s renovation and construction of a new building through the General Obligation Bond Referendum. The college needed $457,000 for renovation of Godwin Hall and $4,573,000 for the proposed economic development/business technologies building. Built in 1972, Godwin Hall was twenty years old and served only 600 students. The new business technologies building would provide an additional 50,000 square feet of space. The bond issue was placed on Virginia voting ballots during November elections. MECC President Robert Sandel informed audiences in the college’s service area about the need to fund renovations in Godwin Hall and to build more classroom space on campus for higher enrollments. Voters responded by passing the bond obligation referendum at the polls. MECC received $5 million with $458,000 earmarked for renovation of Godwin Hall and $4.57 million for construction of the new business/ technologies building. Additional matching funds were pledged by local municipalities, which included $7,200 for a parking lot. October was a momentous month filled with events and honors. On the 16th, Dr. Robert Sandel was inaugurated as the fourth president of MECC. In his inauguration speech he promised quality as the top priority for himself and for the college. He pledged that “Planning for greatness has to be the first priority at the school.” (Holyfield, MECC Quality is Top Priority for President , 1992) Retired LENOWISCO Executive Director Bruce Robinette discussed the college’s founding and its importance to a segment of the area’s population that has no safety net in the job market. He asked Sandel, as the newly inaugurated president of the college, to “Stay long enough for us to name a building after you. Lead us into the 21st Century.” (Holyfield, MECC Quality is Top Priority for President , 1992) The celebration of Sandel’s inauguration continued through the weekend. Home Craft Days featured Roadside Theater and John McCutcheon in a festive 20th anniversary on October 17 and 18. Thousands of people enjoyed Appalachian music, food, craft displays, special theater performances and storytelling. McCutcheon had earned a reputation as an accomplished musician and songwriter and was recognized worldwide as master on the hammer dulcimer. He was a Grammy nominee. Roadside Theater had performed at various national facilities, including Lincoln Center and at off-Broadway. Also during October, Harold Armsey received the W. P. Kanto Memorial Award for his significant contributions to area education. Besides his outstanding work with MECC, Armsey received accolades for his contributions to Clinch Valley College, Norton City Schools, and Wise County Public Schools. Louis Collier moved from Chairman of the Industrial and Engineering Technology Division to Tech Prep Coordinator. The new program, aided by $180,000 from a Tech Prep grant, aimed at beefing up learning for high school graduates who were not employable or in need of remedial courses in English, mathematics, or applied sciences. 185


Twenty Years Later — Denise Lawson, freshman student at MECC, helped Director of Learning Resources Mel Bullock with a program that was familiar to her that December of 1992. Denise was one of a generation of college students who remembered coming to MECC as a kindergartner or first-grader for the annual Christmas Cartoon Series. She said, “I wasn’t sure wasn’t sure it was at it was at MECC until I asked how long the college has been MECC until I asked doing this. I definitely remember the cartoons. My favorite part this year was hearing what the kids want for Christmas.” how long the college has been doing this. I definitely (MECC News Release, 1992)

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remember the cartoons. My favorite part this year was hearing what the kids want for Christmas.

With all the ceremonial activities of 1992, Mel Bullock, charter employee of MECC, recalled his first days at the college as MECC’s first librarian and director of Learning Resources.

July 1972: no air conditioning, open windows, no screens, pencil in one hand and a fly swatter in the other, broken elevator, boxes of books stacked to the ceiling, sore shoulders and back, 10-hour days, the excitement of a new job and a new library for a new college. The MECC library and work rooms were the federal judge’s chamber on the third floor of the post office in Big Stone Gap. Such was the first month of the college for me and my staff—an assistant librarian, Flo Bouynozos, and two work-study students, Sharrod Turnage and Jan Allen. When the move was made to campus, around the first of August, the library book collection we were processing was still being housed in the boxes in which they were shipped. Holton Hall (then B building) was the only building completed and H122 was the library. For the next month we continued to process books and supplies as well as order shelving and library furniture. Port-o-lets and construction-type water coolers were our conveniences, while Godwin Hall (then A building) was readied for occupancy. When we were finally allowed to move into the permanent library, the furniture had not arrived and would not until sometime in October. The faculty had desks along two walls and office shelving was used to separate their “offices” from the rest of the library. What to do? What to do? Our first students arrived on September 25, 1972, but we were READY. We had four metal tables with folding chairs borrowed 186


from the Big Stone Gap Armory for students to study. Our books were catalogued, labeled and neatly arranged in rows, spines visible, up and down the center of the library—on the floor! Needless to say, we were happy when we finally received our furniture, the faculty were able to move into their real offices, and the rest of the rooms were finished. Hallelujah! As I look back on such beginnings and reminisce about times when nothing seemed impossible, I realize that all things are possible. – Mel Bullock (October 1992)

The best thing about my MECC experience has been working with students. The variety of students at a community college is wonderful seeing individuals achieve knowledge and master new skills is really interesting. Most rewarding of all is seeing that “ah-ha” moment of insight and victory. The challenges I faced have been connecting and maintaining a connection with each and every student. The first step is reaching out to the student wherever they are so that they will feel a bond with the course and see its relevance to them. Second is seeing the necessity to continue the course through to the end of the semester. A third even more serious challenge has been to keep those who graduate from leaving the area. I have seen a severe loss of human capital from the service area. After the connection has been made and nurtured until graduation, it is very difficult to watch successes leave the area.

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MECC has really expanded since I came here. New programs, new technology and new buildings have created social and personal changes. The beginning and dramatic expansion of the computer network has created change at many different levels. More recently, MECC has become a major leader in distance education.

ometimes it is someone in the back shouting, “Way to go, MOM!” as a student walks across the stage to receive their degree.

There are too many good memories to select just one. Graduations stand out as real high points. It seems that each graduation has a special favorite element. Sometimes it is someone in the back shouting, “Way to go, MOM!” as a student walks across the stage to receive their degree. Sometimes it is a short, but passionate speech from a graduate. Sometimes it is a rainstorm and a wave of water cascading from under the seats. Graduations are a favorite. – Reginald St. Clair

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1993 – Beautiful Minds and Promising Future after 20 Years The new year began with greater promise for quality and growth around the campus. Chris Allgyer received accolades for his work in math, music and the Governor’s School summer program. Allgyer, who held degrees in mathematics and music theory and composition, not only taught math and music appreciation, he analyzed the parallel beauty of arts and sciences combined. His search was for the beautiful mind. Allgyer traveled to national venues such as Boston, Massachusetts, and San Antonio, Texas, to speak on fractal geometry and chaos theory, explaining the butterfly effect long before audiences heard a similar account from Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. Chaos theory was the hot topic in mathematics about 1990, mostly in post-grad departments. Chris Allgyer had been friends with one of the top names in Chaos, and began working it into the Governor’s School at MECC, certainly the only high school program on Chaos at that time. Of course, one look at Chris’ desktop would convince anyone that Chris knew a lot about chaos. Chris and I shared an office for a year, the old boardroom. I keep a clean desk, nothing on top except the material I am working with. Chris kept every paper or book he had ever touched on his desk. I would return from class to find him working on my desk, no room on his. – David Patterson. Allgyer assumed directorship of the Governor’s School at MECC in 1987, two years after Robert Collier began the Magnet School in 1985. It was the first such school in a community college. The summer project enrolled 60 high school students in classes covering topics in science, math, and computer science. Allgyer praised his fellow instructors: Dr. Frank Brimelow for his work in chemistry and Mr. William Harris for his supervision of physics. Quality became an emphasis around the campus. MECC President Robert Sandel joined with LENOWISCO Director Ron Flanary, Penn Virginia Resources President Vince Mathews, and Eastman Chemical Benchmarking Manager Vic Dingus to offer the first seminar in Total Quality Management in Duffield. The four leaders detailed the significance of total quality practices on education and industry. They emphasized the importance of hey emphasized the an educated workforce in future jobs. Flanary noted that in the importance of an past industry looked for bodies, but in the future industry would seek minds. Sandel stated that the college would practice what it educated workforce in preached by providing quality training for the workforce. future jobs.

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Good news came from Virginia’s legislature in the form of a $29 billion budget for 1992 – 94. Included in the budget was a 3.55 percent raise for college faculty. Delegate Bud Phillips of St. Paul said, “We got almost everything we requested.” Senator William Wampler of Bristol commented that the budget provided “fairly decent” raises. (Associated Press, 1993) It was the first raise college faculty had received in several years. 188


Tuition assistance expanded to include students from middle-class families who did not previously qualify for financial aid. Grants such as the Virginia Community College System Middle Income Tuition Assistance Grant and scholarships such as the Edwards and Harding Petroleum Foundation Scholarship helped students attend college full time without having to work and attend part time. The Human Resources Project at MECC provided assessment of employee training needs and customized classes to improve employee skills. Its workplace education classes improved employees’ proficiency and enhanced their sense of achievement and security within their jobs.

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erhaps as a result of the positive direction MECC had taken, enrollment jumped by 100 students for Spring Semester 1993.

Perhaps as a result of the positive direction MECC had taken, enrollment jumped by 100 students for Spring Semester, 1993. Director of Admissions, Records and Financial Aid Perry Carroll announced a head count of 2,095, a number that would continue to rise through January 21. For Spring Semester 1992, enrollment had been 1,995. The increase of 100 students resulted in approximately $20,000 more funding available at mid-year. At the time, transfer programs were leading the way in student enrollment.

On February 5, Roy Powers, Assistant Professor of Electronics, held an organizational meeting to form a Virginia Chapter of the American Cave Conservation Association in Dalton-Cantrell Hall. The meeting was one of many activities on the part of Mr. Powers to educate the public on the importance of protecting caves and bats in Southwest Virginia and the region. Mountain Empire’s Criminal Justice Club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, scored eight awards the first time it entered in the national LAE competitions. MECC sophomore Ron Witt captured the “Top Gun in Academics” award. Sophomore Shirley Miller won second place in Corrections. In team competitions, Miller joined with William Osborne and Cindy Mongle (criminal justice faculty) to win second place in Crime Scene in the professional level. The three MECC representatives scored 99 out of a 100 possible points. Osborne won first place in Corrections and third place in Juvenile Justice. Mongle earned second place in Criminal Law. Osborne said he would have been happy with one award. Eight awards was a major accomplishment. Jill McCorkle, author of four widely-acclaimed novels, was featured at the 17th annual John Fox, Jr. Festival held in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium on April 15. McCorkle taught creative writing at Harvard University while working on her short stories and novels. Also appearing as a second feature of the program, David Browning, Executive Director of Lonesome Pine Arts and Crafts, performed “A Visit with John Fox.” Browning’s portrayal of John Fox, Jr. was a favorite event among the festival crowd. The Players on the Mountain presented Our Town during a two-week run of April 30 – May 1 and May 7 - 8. It was a highly successful performance that was also offered to area high school classes during daytime showings on May 17 – 20. Governor L. Douglas Wilder held an open house at Dalton-Cantrell Hall on April 17. Governor Wilder brought several state officers to the meeting where he discussed economic problems and opportunities for opening Southwest Virginia to tourism. He expressed optimism for health care and welfare reform under new President Bill Clinton. 189


Graduation and Honorees — Penn Virginia Resources President Dr. Vincent Matthews III told some 220 graduates at MECC they should “live their dreams” during commencement ceremonies on May 13. MECC President Robert Sandel joined with Advisory Board member Bob Parks to present a resolution of appreciation to Edward R. Hutchinson who served as MECC’s Board Chairman from 1990 – 1992. Hutchinson was applauded for his diligent service to and his abiding concern for education.

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obody does MECC hosted a dinner for retiring First District Delegate Ford Quillen it like the at Natural Tunnel State Park on May 12. Also hosting the meeting were VCCS Board members. Quillen had introduced the legislation community colleges which established MECC and had been a tireless supporter of the as far as giving college. He had served for twenty-four years in the Virginia House of Delegates. Quillen called his years of service a labor of love and opportunities to noted the contributions of MECC to education in Virginia. “Nobody young people. does it like the community colleges as far as giving opportunities to young people. You do a great job and the Commonwealth is well served. I just feel lucky to be a part of it.” (MECC News Release, 1993) Later that summer the chambers of commerce for Lee, Scott, and Wise Counties established a scholarship to honor Delegate Quillen for his twenty-four years of service. Delegate Quillen did not expect to reach scholarship goals of raising $48,000 -- $2,000 for each of his years of service – however, the three chambers raised half that total almost immediately. “I couldn’t get my checkbook out fast enough,” said Dr. Vince Matthews, head of Penn Virginia Corporation, when he was asked to give to The Honorable Ford C. Quillen Scholarship Fund. James Addington, a member of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce added, “Hopefully we’ll finish the fundraising drive in September or October.” (Meade, 1993) Among other contributors, the Scott County Rotary Club donated $4,350 to the fund in October. Sandy Honaker, Treasurer of the Rotary Club, presented the check to President of Scott County Chamber of Commerce, Craig Seaver. NationsBank donated $2,500 to the scholarship. NationsBank Region Executive Howard L. Baucom said, “We are pleased to commemorate Quillen’s service to Southwest Virginia by making a contribution toward education.” (MECC News Release, 1993) Shirley Wells passed both levels of the WordPerfect Certification Resource test, version 5.1 for DOS in May of 1992. Certification required successfully completing an objective test on WordPerfect and DOS as well as completing a hands-on project that included advanced features of the WordPerfect Program. Certified individuals show proficiency in the latest release of WordPerfect and are qualified to offer training on the use of the program. Mrs. Wells spent the summer in the business world as an intern at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. Winning the internship into Eastman’s “Putting Children First” was not easy. Only nine teachers were accepted. Mrs. Wells experienced the full Eastman employment process. She then observed Eastman’s quality management practice in action. At the end of the internship, she had to give a presentation on “What I learned in the summer of 1993.” 190


Jim Bates, Assistant Professor of Accounting, was appointed to serve a three-year term on the National Board of Directors for the Accreditation Council for Accountancy & Taxation. The council recognized practitioners and students who demonstrated knowledge in accounting and taxation. Chuks Ogbonnaya, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science, won a Fulbright Senior Scholarship to spend nine months in Ghana, West Africa, beginning in December. Ogbonnaya taught plant and environmental science and research host-plant resistance. The Fulbright Scholarship is one of the most distinguished scholarships worldwide. Dr. Ogbonnaya’s impressive academic accomplishments made his participation in the Fulbright Scholarship Program possible. His wife and family joined him in Ghana. New Faces: Dr. Richard Phillips joined MECC as the new chair of industrial and engineering technology. Dr. Phillips came to the college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Western Carolina University, a Master of Arts Degree in Education from Ball State University, and a Doctorate in Education from Texas A & M University. He commented that, under his leadership, the college would continue to meet the needs of the mining industry--which was declining--while expanding more efforts in growing industries such as correctional services and environmental sciences. I came here March of 1993--arrived in a blizzard--if you remember the blizzard of March 1993. I started March 15--Mary, Martha and I came up for the interview. We were in two cars and we were in Wytheville and it started snowing, so we kept on going down 81. I was looking at the map and thinking we have to get on the road from Abingdon to Bristol. This route 58 looks like a short cut. So I got on Route 58, and it started snowing and that road, man, it’s like a . . . . I’m driving and thinking, “Oh Brother, if I start sliding off this road, it’s not gonna be good.” I finally made it to the Ramada Inn, but there was about 3 inches of snow on the ground. We went in to eat at Ramada Inn. When we came back out, there was 6 inches of snow on the ground.

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’m driving and thinking, “Oh Brother, if I start sliding off this road, it’s not gonna be good.”

We went to bed and when we woke up there was a foot and a half of snow on the ground. I was supposed to start work Monday, but we were snowed in. The college was closed. I called Dr. Scott, the dean at the time. I told him, “I’m at the Ramada Inn.” He said, “The college is closed and we will probably be closed for several days.” On Tuesday, Mary went back home. I called Dr. Scott and said “Well, I am here at the college, come on in.” I came in all week. The college was closed, but all week he would come down and talk to me. He took me to lunch almost every day, so I really got to know him. Plus, I learned the job. He was there to help me for hours. If the college had been in session, he would not have had time for me. So I really 191


got much better training than most people probably did when they came to work here. By the time everybody got back to work, I had been there for a week. I got my office fixed up, and knew what I was doing, and I felt very comfortable. I was settled in and felt pretty good. – Richard Phillips Donna Graham Stanley joined the administration of MECC in July as the college’s new Coordinator of Institutional Advancement. Stanley had worked for the preceding nine years as primary liaison for Ninth District U. S. Representative Rick Boucher. Stanley held a Bachelor of Science Degree from James Madison University and a Master of Science Degree from Virginia Tech. Her duties at MECC included writing grants and providing leadership as the Executive Director of the MECC Foundation, Inc.

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I came to Mountain Empire in 1993 and I was hired by Bobby Sandel, six months or so after he arrived. Richard Phillips and I were two of his first hires. Richard was here a little before I was, and Mary Phillips and I started the same day: July 1, 1993.

ou have to be ready if a grant comes up; if you don’t make the grant deadline, the granting agency will not accept your application.

When I was hired, Dr. Sandel’s focus was to have one administrative employee who did nothing but focus on building the Institutional Advancement functions, which were evenly divided between grants and the Foundation. You have to be ready if a grant comes up; if you don’t make the grant deadline, the granting agency will not accept your application.

When I came to the college, we had assets of about $500,000 in the Foundation. That would have been a combination of an endowment and funds that were being held by the Foundation. Today we have about $8.9 million in assets. During that time, we worked the first three or four years trying to get a strong annual fund drive. We first started working on the annual fund drive, and trying to create some rarely conducted events and schedules for things that would help people to know the Foundation. The college had had a successful gala in the past. We wanted to keep that going as an annual event. The money raised from the gala increased substantially from the early years. In recent years, we have been honoring an individual with our gala and raising money in that person’s name. Earlier, we were raising $5,000 or less. Now our galas are raising between $15 to $30 thousand a year. In 1995 we began sponsoring golf tournaments as fundraisers. Every year since then we have held an annual golf tournament in Wise County at the Lonesome Pine Country Club and in Lee County at the Cedar Hill Country Club. We have had to increase our staffing to manage fund raising. In 1996, we hired 192


Jearline Bledsoe as the Annual Fund and Special Events Coordinator. Jeri coordinates all the special events as well as the internal campaign on campus, which we have been trying to strengthen over time, to give employees the opportunity to choose the needs we have for raising money. We organized a committee on what needs they think should be addressed with employee giving and we established a campaign based around feedback we got from the employees. We have established a cycle of planning with employees in the fall and fund-raising in the spring. Soon after Dr. Sandel came to the college, he and Mrs. Sandel suggested we host a breakfast during the Home Craft Days weekend events as a thank you to our donors. We would invite them to that breakfast, as well as other friends of the college. We have hosted that breakfast annually since 1994. One of the most significant turning points for the Foundation in our ability to grow and sustain our work was when Nell Phillips and French Taylor left the college a $1.8 million unrestricted gift in 1998. We were able to put that in our endowed fund and we used that money to fund personnel in the Foundation office. It has allowed us to go after these gifts more aggressively.

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ne of the most significant turning points for the Foundation in our ability to grow and sustain our work was when Nell Phillips and French Taylor left the college a $1.8 million unrestricted gift in 1998.

In the 90s, our total fundraising gifts ranged from as low as $20,000 a year to a high of around $70,000. Today we are raising about $600,000 annually. In some cases we have raised over a million dollars in a year. – Donna Stanley As suggested by Dr. Richard Phillips, MECC shifted its emphasis in the industrial technologies fields. With declining numbers of jobs available in coal mining, enrollment in the Associate Degree in Mining and Petroleum Technology Program had dropped from a high of 20 to 30 graduates annually during the mining industry’s peak years of the late seventies and early eighties to three graduates in 1992-93. Under guidelines for SCHEV, the college was required to average seven graduates over a three-year period. The college planned to place more emphasis on specialized training in mining. Mining instructor Gary Nickles said, “The industry now has limited turnover, especially since there are plenty of experienced people with degrees already working.” (Tate, 1993)

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A Technology First – Two-way fiber-optics classrooms at MECC — Mountain Empire partnered with Lee County and Thomas Walker High Schools to offer distance education via interactive video in the classroom. Beginning Fall Semester 1993, C&P Telephone Company created a three-site demonstration project for the interactive television network, the first of its kind in a rural area in the U. S. C&P contributed $180,000 to install fiber-optic lines to Mountain Empire Community College and the two high school sites, provided telephone service for free, and donated another $25,000 to establish and maintain the project. “Through distance learning we can ensure that the best instruction available in any of our local schools is available in all our schools,” Ninth District Delegate Rick Boucher said in announcing the program. Hugh Stallard, President of C&P, acknowledged that the network was the first of its kind in rural America. Boucher added, “Beginning in the west and moving east, we intend to cover the entire Ninth District.” Melvin Bullock, Director of Learning Resources at MECC, said, “I have classroom space already allocated. . . . We’re excited this is happening first at Mountain Empire. I knew it would be coming, I just didn’t realize it would be this soon.” Stallard added that fiber-optic network construction for the interactive system was “the next step in the evolution of distance learning technology.” (MECC News Release, 1993) C&P further planned to complete a 50-mile optical fiber network within four to five years that would connect the four community colleges and six four-year colleges with sixteen local school divisions. One hair-thin strand of fiber carried as many as 100,000 telephone calls at one instant over a tiny, pulsating beam of laser light. MECC once again led the way in innovative technology. President Robert Sandel said the network “is a dream for both Lee County and MECC.” (MECC News Release, 1993) In October, Congressman Rick Boucher and C&P Telephone Company President Hugh Stallard met with teachers and community leaders at Lee High School for a live demonstration of the electronic television network, which would become known as Southwest Virginia Educational Television Network (SVETN). Under the direction of Melvin Bullock and with the assistance of Joseph Givens, faculty at MECC learned to teach in the new fiber optics classroom. The first MECC instructor to use fiber optics was Gary Bumgarner, who offered his business classes to Lee County sites. He was soon followed by Van Rose as SVETN’s instructor of freshman composition. Fiber optics instruction would become a part of MECC’s tri-college nursing program as well as an instrumental vehicle for delivery of other classes to students in Lee County, Wise County, and Dickenson County. As one of its goals, the college planned to build facilities for an interactive classroom in order to provide the area with a better trained workforce within the next two years. A second goal was to interconnect all the school’s computer systems. Fiber-optic classrooms, with cutting-edge technology, promised face-to-face communication 194


between instructors on campus and students at outlying sites, and it delivered with such clarity and intimacy that it was at times . . . embarrassing. I had gone off for quite a bit of training on the fiber optics. In fact, AT&T paid for a week in Baltimore for me to train on the fiber optic system. When using the system, you had to wear a microphone on your lapel and you had a little battery pack on the side. So you could wander around the room and it was such high tech that the camera would follow you while you wandered around the room lecturing. Students could see the professor at all times. But I had a conflict one night, and I had to go to a conference in Richmond and I asked one of my friends to volunteer to do a course for me. I left a little experiential activity for the students to do, and I asked him to direct that and it wasn’t much of a problem. He went in and covered the class and I came back from the conference, and said, “Well how did it go?” He said, “Great. nd I saw the look I didn’t have a problem.” I thanked him. I went to class the following week and said, “I understand that you had in my students’ a successful class and that my colleague was able to help eyes and read their you with that.” And I saw the look in my students’ eyes and read their body language and realized it wasn’t quite as body language and realized it wasn’t quite perfect a session as I thought, and the one girl says, “YOU DON’T KNOW?” And I said, “Well, tell me.” And I guess as perfect a session my colleague had lectured partially from class notes and as I thought, and the got them started on the experiential lecture, and while they were working on the activity he had two cups of coffee. So one girls says, “YOU he headed to the restroom while they were busily working. DON’T KNOW?”. He went into the restroom and he left his microphone on and the one girl said, “Well, we know he has good hygiene because we heard him washing his hands while he was in there.” And the other girl says, “Yes! And the technology is WONDERFUL because I could hear the zipper going down.” So, that was one of those stories we had and I try not to bring it up with my colleagues anymore but it didn’t take long for the word to get around.

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Women (Laughing.): Thank goodness the camera didn’t fall in. Gary: I know. – Gary Bumgarner Enrollment for the 1992 – 93 academic year increased by 6.2 percent over the 1991 – 92 year. MECC’s growth was the third highest among the VCCS’s twenty-three colleges. FTEs rose from 1,658 to 1,760. Dr. Robert Sandel called the increase extraordinary and attributed it to more emphasis on education during weak economic times. 195


MECC’s criminal justice club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, hosted the Region IV conference and field competitions on October 15 and 16. The conference included participants from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as Virginia. Dub Osborne and Cindy Mongle directed activities involving 110 contestants from sixteen colleges. MECC students performed well in competitions, claiming sixteen awards. Ramond Burgin, Assistant Professor, Theater/Drama at MECC, established and became first president of the Southwest Virginia Folklore Society during the spring of 1993. In October, the society published a journal featuring folklore legends, stories, recipes, etc. The society collected folklore from local tales and oral traditions. Folklore meshed in with MECC’s twenty-first Home Craft Days, a tradition since it began in 1972 under the direction of folklorist Roddy Moore. On October 16 and 17, over 10,000 people flooded the campus of the college to revisit the traditional crafts, music, and culture of the Appalachian region. Sue Ella Boatright, Director of Continuing Education at MECC, said, “We are committed to keeping Home Craft Days traditional and handmade. There is a committee that reviews all applications for authenticity.” (Mullins, 1993) Phi Beta Lambda president Jennifer Wilson oversaw the reactivation of MECC’s Omega Tau Chapter in December. Ben Cox was elected president and Karen Shelton was elected vice president of the new Omega Tau Chapter. Ann Davis and Peggy Rusek were the advisors for PBL and Omega Tau. Bidding began for the new $4 million Economic Development and Business Technology Building in the fall of 1994. Funds for the building came from the 1992 general obligations bond passed by voters during general elections in November 1992. The building was tentatively scheduled for completion by the end of 1995. The Thompson & Litton engineering firm began architectural plans for the building in December 1993. The new building would bring business and technology programs under one roof.

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1994 By spring semester the fiber optics network had expanded to offer more classes to students in more locations. New fiber optics classrooms in Norton and at Thomas Walker High Schools joined with the original classrooms in Lee, Wise, and Dickenson Counties. U.S. Representative Rick Boucher reported in his “Capital Commentary” that he hoped to obtain federal funds and telephone company participation necessary to link the sixty high schools and all community colleges and four-year colleges in the Ninth District’s twenty-three counties and cities as a long-term goal. In a series of news articles, President Robert Sandel predicted within two years MECC would have undergone so much renovation, new construction, and landscaping that it would not look like the same place. To begin plans for constructing the new Economic Development and Business Technologies Building, Virginia’s General Assembly appropriated he new road would $500,000 in special funds to build a new access road encircling open up 85 of the the campus. The new road would open up 85 of the 100 acres of campus grounds. Building plans on the proposed structure 100 acres of campus included a multi-purpose room with a stage and enough space to grounds. accommodate 300 to 400 people.

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The “loop around the campus” would open up more green space, enhance campus beauty, and ease traffic problems while improving access to buildings and parking lots. College personnel dreamed of a John Fox, Jr. Amphitheater for productions of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine high above the campus and for an Inn on the Mountain to serve as a conference center. With the new loop road planned around campus, faculty, staff and students of MECC began work on a new nature and walking trail on campus. Dr. Sharon Fisher, Director of Planning and Development, organized the volunteer project. The trail, when finished, ran around the periphery of the campus with a number of loops within that large circle, encompassing a total distance of 2 ½ miles. “Our focus was to have a greening of the campus before greening was cool” Fisher said.

MECC Trekkers’ Club — Mr. Jim Burns, Assistant Professor, English, headed MECC’s Trekkers’ Club, made up of college faculty, administrators, staff, and students. The Club helped clear trails, set up camps along trails, and maintain trails in the area. It also spent weekends trekking Southwest Virginia’s mountainous terrains. Jim Burns had his office at the end of a long hall. In a division meeting we were talking about fire alarms, and Jim said he could never hear one in his office. Someone asked what would happen if we had a real fire. Jim said, “Jim Burns” – David Patterson. 197


Other advancements in college innovations included the Local Area Network System, designed to provide every instructor with a desktop computer for developing course materials and recording class grades. The network would link office computers with the college’s main computer. Renovations on Godwin Hall had been delayed from February to summer. MECC’s College Board approved changing the goal from completing the renovations to finalizing plans. Total Quality Management would continue as the guiding method of achieving college goals. President Sandel told the public, “We have re-analyzed the college’s mission, vision and values, to make sure we are in agreement about the school’s direction.” (Tate S. P., 1994) Dr. Sergei Polozov, Associate Professor of Zoology and Ecology at Moscow Pedagogical University in Moscow, Russia, came to MECC on sabbatical as the college’s visiting professor, replacing Dr. Ogbannaya, who was in Ghana, Africa on sabatical. The Russian lecturer was visiting America for his fifth time to study environmental issues. Polozov spent his final semester at MECC teaching his favorite topics – how ecosystems work and global and local environmental problems. Black History Month at MECC featured a performance by Maasai Warrior Mpeti “Tom” Ole Surum in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium on February 17 from 12:30 to 1:30. Mpeti had entertained audiences in Britain and in America. As a part of his performance, he shared his knowledge of Maasai culture. The first Miss Mountain Empire Community College Pageant sponsored by Lambda Alpha Epsilon occurred on Tuesday, March 22. Contestants were Heidi Bolling, Stephanie Dotson, Christie Farmer, Lisa Garrison, Annette Gilley, Mariana Honeycutt, Susan Jennings, Heather Stanley, and Rebecca Wolfe. Players on the Mountain presented Grandpap Told me Tales on May 6 and 7. Written by Wise County author and folklorist James Taylor Adams, the play covered stories Adams heard from his grandfather when he was a child. The play consisted of five selected stories from the total collection of tales, and it opened five generations back into the playwright’s family. After winning contests in the eastern regional competitions, MECC’s criminal justice club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, sent nineteen students and three instructors to the 1994 Criminal Justice Association National Conference in Chicago. Continuing their successes, six students received awards. Doug Davis won first place for nationals in Correction/lower division; Narda Boggs received second place in Juvenile Law and third place in Corrections in the professional division; Mona Kay Kelly received second place award for her research paper/lower division; and Denny Potter received third place award in Physical Agility/lower division. The team of Denny Potter, Wayne Roberts, and Jeff Sackett received third place in Crime Scene/professional division. Team advisor Cindy Mongle called the students’ achievements tremendous. 198


Final enrollment numbers for the 1993-94 academic year increased by 1 percent. More students came to campus and they took more classes.

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ay Lemons, Chancellor of Clinch Valley College, addressed 234 graduates and a large attending audience at MECC’s twenty-first commencement.

Jay Lemons, Chancellor of Clinch Valley College, addressed 234 graduates and a large attending audience at MECC’s twenty-first commencement. Lemons told the graduates that the single greatest achievement of American colleges and universities was that schools develop the talent necessary to sustain democracy. President Robert Sandel added that Southwest Virginia’s colleges can be the catalyst that moves the region forward in the coming decade.

MECC dedicates its library to honor Wamplers — MECC’s Foundation received a land donation valued at $65,000 from Sue Wampler Richmond and John D. Richmond in memory of Mrs. Richmond’s parents, John Barbour Wampler and Mabel Wampler. The parents had lived in Wise County where John Wampler served as president of First National Bank of Big Stone Gap and had approved many loans to students to go to college. The property was approximately one-quarter mile from MECC, on Route 23. Mrs. Richmond had inherited the plot from her great “Uncle Jim.” The donation, along with the Wamplers’ lifelong commitment to learning, resulted in MECC naming its previously unnamed library the Wampler Library.

Appointments and Promotions — Dean of Academic and Student Services, Norman H. Scott, who had served MECC since 1987, left the college to accept the presidency at Williamsburg have never seen in 23 Technical College in Kingstree, South Carolina. Scott had years a more dedicated worked for 23 years in the VCCS. Of his tenure at MECC, Scott said, “I have never seen in 23 years a more dedicated and hard working faculty. and hard working faculty. They are the reason MECC is so They are the reason successful.” (MECC News Release, 1994)

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MECC is so successful.

Dr. Robert W. Day arrived in July as MECC’s new Chairman of Business Technology and Health Sciences. Day had twenty-two years of community college experience. He held a Ph.D. in higher education from Florida State University. In other important appointments, Mr. Donald Ratliff of Big Stone Gap began a four-year term on the Virginia Board of Community Colleges in July. A native of Southwest Virginia, Ratliff was an educator and held a master’s degree in safety from Marshall University in West Virginia. Also, Mr. Jerry Ramey joined MECC’s faculty as Instructor of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. 199


Ramey owned JR Heating and Cooling in Norton. He was a master electrician and held an Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Certificate from MECC. Mr. Lee Mumpower, Director of Educational Talent Search, served as President of the Mid-Eastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (MEAEOPP). MEAEOPP was an organization of 181 TRIO programs in Virginia. Ms. Hope Hancock, Director and counselor of Student Services, became secretary of the Virginia Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel. Two interim promotions occurred in academic positions at MECC. Mr. James Durham, Chairman of Arts and Sciences, became Interim Dean of Academic and Student Services, serving until the college hired a new dean to replace Dr. Norman Scott. Mrs. Carolyn Reynolds, Assistant Professor of English, filled Mr. Durham’s position as Interim Chair of Arts and Sciences. MECC’s Tech Prep Steering Committee won the 1994 State Winning Model Tech Prep Projects Award, given by the Virginia Council on Vocational Education. Louis Collier, Tech Prep Projects Director, accepted the award on June 21, 1994, in Richmond on behalf of the Steering Committee. Virginia’s community colleges underwent a restructuring of academic programs during the summer and fall of 1994. A system-wide review of curricula found redundancy in classes and a need to cut some unnecessary classes in programs. Community colleges were requiring 65 – 67 credit hours for completion of two-year degrees. Restructuring would reduce credit requirements to 60 hours in order for students to earn two-year degrees. Three new members joined MECC’s Advisory Board. They were Eleanor Chadwell and Bob Horton of Jonesville, serving for Lee County, and Frances Wall of St. Paul representing Wise County. Each was appointed for a four-year term. Other Board members serving during 1994 were: Scott County: Dr. Sue B. Mays, Mr. Bob Parks, Ms. Virginia Ann Sturgill, Mr. Joe Curtis Weatherly. Wise County: Dr. Brownie Polly Jr., Mr. Bruce K. Robinette, Mr. Bobby Joe Short, Mr. Bob Varner, Ms. Frances Wall. Lee County: Ms. Eleanor Chadwell, Mrs. Carol Grace, Dr. Sue B. Mays, Mr. Bob Horton, Mr. E. C. Sumpter. Norton City: Mr. Harold Armsey, and Ms. Janet Strunk. At that time the Dickenson County position was vacated due to the recent resignation of Greg Baker.

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Reflections on Mountain Empire — During my service on MECC’s Board I had the pleasure of working with two presidents, Dr. Ruth Smith (1990 – 91) and Dr. Robert Sandel (1992 – 96). The Dean of Academics and Student Services was Dr. Norman Scott. Dr. Smith was a very caring and energetic leader who tirelessly worked to open education to students through her many ideas. While I worked with her for only one year, I found her to be totally supportive of MECC’s mission. Bobby Sandel came to MECC with plans and dedication. During his tenure we accomplished many changes in the campus, added programs, and brought growth to enrollment. Changes in buildings and roads included renovation of Godwin Hall, completion of Robb Hall, initiation of Phillips-Taylor Hall with its Goodloe Center, construction of the access road that opened the campus, and addition of an archery court to the campus. Dr. Sandel worked diligently with Senator William Wampler and Delegates Terry Kilgore and Bud Phillips to secure funds for upgrading the façade and the entrance to Godwin Hall. With the Board’s support, he gained additional funding to begin construction of Phillips-Taylor Hall. We had received $2 million from Nell Phillips and French Taylor and another large contribution from the Goodloe family. The college presented family members with large framed plaques for their support. As the outgoing MECC Board Chairman, I presented the awards. We did not complete Phillips-Taylor Hall during my tenure due to a delay in funding, but we did have the groundwork and all plans moving forward. Several program upgrades occurred while I served on the Board. Admission to the nursing program was reviewed and amended to lower the large waiting lists (over 100 annually). MECC began an articulation agreement with the county Votech schools. The college initiated a quick response program ech Prep to enable the president to set up classes to train workers for became a new businesses and industries. We endowed several student scholarships from donations to the Foundation. Tech Prep reality as a result became a reality as a result of articulation with area businesses. of articulation with Louis Collier assumed the position of Director of Tech-Prep. area businesses. Because of these efforts and so much more, student enrollment

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increased dramatically with many high school honor graduates from our area beginning their college careers at MECC. It has been an honor for me to serve as a part of MECC. I enjoyed my time working with President Sandel, Dean Norman Scott, Senator Wampler, Delegates Kilgore and Phillips, the administration, faculty, and staff. The people of MECC are truly committed to bringing quality educational opportunities to citizens of Southwest Virginia. I cherish my years working with everybody at MECC. – E. C. Sumpter Retired Virginia Delegate Ford C. Quillen won yet another award in 1994, receiving the annual William P. Kanto Award. The award recognized people who served Southwest Virginia and who demonstrated a commitment to education. MECC announced the establishment of a new scholarship in the name of Charles Morris, Sr. Morris had been an active leader in education and arts in Southwest Virginia and had served on MECC’s Advisory Board. He was serving on the MECC Foundation Board at the time of his death in 1986. The twenty-second annual Home Craft Days welcomed over 200 craft booths on the college grounds for the weekend of October 15 and 16. A crowd of thousands toured the campus surrounded by October blue skies and brilliant autumn foliage. The smell of home-made food and the rhythms of country music filled the air. Roadside Theater performed Pretty Polly on Saturday at 4 p.m. Visitors enjoyed eating, dancing, riding horse-drawn wagons, and viewing antiques, crafts, and a slide presentation of woven coverlets. Work had begun to renovate Godwin Hall in September. The reconstruction would improve the outside façade and change the entranceway into a warm, inviting lobby. Godwin Hall was MECC’s oldest structure, built in 1972. Good news closed 1994. Governor George Allen announced that colleges and universities that had submitted acceptable restructuring plans would not face forecasted budget cuts ranging from 2 to 6 percent. Community colleges had faced cuts of about 20 percent during the previous economic downturn. President Robert Sandel noted that MECC’s curriculum restructuring plan had been approved, along with the entire VCCS curriculum reformation. The restructuring plan, begun in the summer, was completed in October. Community college two-year transfer programs would no longer require more than sixty credits for graduation (excluding orientation classes).

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1995 A new year brought more high-tech progress, familiar challenges, and increased efforts leading to continued success at MECC. The college’s Microcomputer Institute offered quality instruction in the uses of microcomputer hardware and software to businesses and to the general public. Scheduled classes included topics in Desktop Publishing, WordPerfect, DOS, Lotus, and DBASE IV. J. I. Burton High School Thomas Walker High joined other schools in Lee County with its new “electronic classroom.” Burton elected to teach college and high school classes through fiber optics connections. A Latin class was taught to high schools signing on with Burton. Leading the way in “virtual classroom” instruction, Mr. Gary Bumgarner became a charter member of the SVETN Network and taught business classes using the “real time” distance instruction. Innovative technology brought with it a few new twists to pedagogical methods. I used to see somebody nodding in a back row and walk toward them as I was talking to kind of perk them up. Now I have to call on them by name and involve them in a discussion or find other ways to keep everybody involved. – Gary Bumgarner Fiber optics continued MECC’s pioneering in distance education, and, like the college’s first venture into distance education--Learning-In-Transit buses--the electronic classroom had its advantages and its disadvantages. Both innovations provided ways to traverse distances over mountainous terrains to provide education to students in remote areas. Both used the latest technology to deliver classes, tools so highly on the cutting edge that the innovations challenged teachers and students to use them successfully. Whereas the 1972 LIT buses ran along roads to deliver classes, waves of laser beams flashed in milliseconds through fiber optic lines. While the buses made study difficult because of motion, distractions, and engine fumes, the highly sensitive technology of the SVETN Network grew more erratic as more electronic classrooms joined broadcasts. Noise feedback caused sound systems to crash. Video equipment often lost transmission and went blank. The electronic classroom of the future did not run like a car on cruise.

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o we have been on the cutting edge of community college education and George Vaughan had a lot to do with that.

Changes are certain with technology, but we’ve been involved in distance learning from the very beginning, whether it was on the buses or faculty members traveling out to particular sites, satellite training, video courses, fiber optic television, or web instruction. So we have been on the cutting edge of community college education and George Vaughan had a lot to do with that. The first few years at the college when the administration was building the foundation, we had leaders in higher education across the nation coming in, and I could pull out a national magazine and see an article written by somebody 203


who was just here, during an in-service, and had been here before, so that is really something that has helped all of us. Technology is one of those major changes and we seem to go through pendulum swings when an innovation is the greatest thing since sliced bread and five years down the road you look back and say, boy, you thought that was so great, look at what we have now. I think that’s where we are now, trying to figure out how we can use this technology; so that has been one of the changes. – Gary Bumgarner. The biggest change I’ve witnessed is the growth of Distance Education courses, especially Internet courses. In 1996-1997, I taught the first Internet course at the college with eight students. – Jim Burns

Gerry Laney – Assistant Professor of Drafting — Gerry Laney, Assistant Professor of Drafting, brought innovation in computer technology to MECC’s drafting classrooms. Gerry Laney taught drafting at MECC for twentyeight years. During his tenure, he brought expansion and advancement to the curriculum and served as a significant leader of the college faculty as an innovator and a member of the Faculty Senate. Gerry volunteered to schedule and to teach the first night program in drafting on campus, offering students opportunities to earn degrees after work hours. He began articulation with drafting programs at high schools in the area. He recruited students into drafting, advised them on career choices, and personally helped them find employment. he CAD

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program was highly popular with students from fouryear engineering program and local agencies, many of whom came from Virginia Tech and other universities to Gerry’s classes.

Gerry Laney, Louis Collier, and Peggy Beverly

In addition, Gerry planned and supervised the upgrading of MECC’s drafting program from table drawing to Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). The CAD program was highly popular with students from four-year engineering programs and local agencies, many of whom came from Virginia Tech and other universities to Gerry’s classes. Students included Tech graduate student in architecture Rodalpho Yanez and landscape architecture student Mark Bumgarner. To accommodate such students, Gerry taught during nights and on Saturdays. He gained high repute for training employees from Pyxis Resources, Powell Mountain Coal, Arch Minerals, and Humphrey’s Enterprises on the CAD system.

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Gerry also supervised a global information systems (GIS) contract with Tuck Engineering to map Wise County on computers. He began the use of GIS in drafting surveying, organized and conducted the first night classes in drafting, and began articulation of MECC’s drafting program with area colleges and schools. He was a founding member of MECC’s Faculty Senate and served on the Senate from its beginning through several years. He served for five years on the Faculty Senate of Virginia, four years as treasurer. During his time on the two senates, his efforts to seek a greater voice for faculty on college boards brought about House Bill 64 in Virginia’s legislature for 2002. In addition, he worked on the organizing committee for the 2001 forum to host Virginia Governor candidates Mark Warner and Mark Early. Of his efforts to gain faculty voice on college boards, Laney said: We are saying to SCHEV we are willing to play a part. We are happy to serve on some of your committees. That is one of the key things we want to achieve—enhanced communications. . . . For many years faculties considered SCHEV something in the sky. . . . I didn’t know there were actually earthly bodies (on SCHEV) real people could learn to deal with.

Rising Tuition/Scholarship Donations — Tuition increased by three percent in 1995, raising the cost of one credit hour by $1.35, from $45.30 to $46.65. Since 1990, community college tuitions in Virginia had increased by 65 percent. Members of Virginia’s State Board passed a “statement of concern,” urging Governor George Allen and the General Assembly to exempt community colleges from budget reductions in 1995 – 1996. MECC President Robert Sandel reported that, while tuition had risen, so had the college’s enrollment. MECC’s 5.1 percent increase in full-time enrollment placed the college as the fastest growing community college in the state. Once again, donations from organizations helped students meet the rising costs of education. Stafford Communications gave its annual donation to Dr. Sandel to maintain its scholarship for students with a 2.5 GPA majoring in business communications and advertising. The VirginiaKentucky District Fair established a scholarship fund of $1,000 for the college’s general funds. The Kiwanis Club of Norton donated $1,250 to the college’s educational fund. The Lucile Orr Scholarship, established by Lee County Community Hospital Board of Directors, transferred approximately $23,000 to MECC’s Educational Foundation. Lucile Orr was a highly recognized supporter of Lee County Community Hospital and had volunteered to raise funds. She was recognized by MECC’s Foundation at the Foundation’s Scholars Recognition Night on April 19 for her significant contributions. Also, former Governor Linwood Holton, keynote speaker at 205


the Foundation’s Scholars Recognition Night, spoke personally of the legacy of Charles E. Morris, Sr. and for Mr. Morris’ civic leadership. The Charles E. Morris Scholarship, established in 1986, was moved under the administration of the Foundation. The Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE) provided $13,700 for a one-year study of water needs and supplies, and an assessment of solutions. That contribution was matched by $8,000 from Virginia Tech’s Powell River Project. The Governor’s School received a $42,005 National Science Foundation Award for support of the 1994 - 95 math and science program. The NSF support totaled $83,780 for the years of 1994 - 96. MECC received a $20,000 grant from the VCCS to implement a new Media Works program to help prepare workers trained in state-of-the-art technology. The project would have a model training and production center for multimedia instruction in classrooms and multimedia applications in businesses and government agencies. An anonymous donor established a new scholarship with MECC’s Foundation in honor of William P. Kanto during August 1995. The scholarship would provide funds for MECC students from Lee, Scott, and Wise Counties and the City of Norton. Mr. Kanto had been a long-time supporter of MECC and of education in the college’s service area. By fall, MECC had received a major Strengthening the Institution Grant, a federal award aimed at implementing new programs. The grant would help train students in majors aimed at jobs in industries in a diversified economy. A second award from the grant in the form of $1.47 million over five years was designed to aid the college’s developmental programs to improve basic learning skills. President Robert Sandel indicated that the grant would help MECC begin a program in manufacturing technology. Shortly thereafter, MECC received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for $100,750 to provide equipment and program development for its new manufacturing technology program. The ARC funds were matched by $106,824 from other state and federal monies. The program aimed at providing more integration between traditional and advanced manufacturing. MECC’s Foundation had its best fund-raising year ever during 1994-95. It raised $196,000 in 1994 and hoped to top $200,000 in 1995. Harold Armsey, Foundation Development Chair, said the organization’s endowed scholarship program had been able to award approximately $42,000 in scholarship assistance to students as tuition costs continued to rise. College events attracted interest and participation from area residents and students. MECC hosted the Cumberland District Forensic Competitions on February 25. ECC hosted the The college held its 1995 Miss MECC Beauty Contest, sponsored by Lambda Alpha Epsilon, on March 11. Contestants included Cumberland Amanda Banner, Miss Congeniality; Leslie Zeppa, third runner-up; District Forensic Rebecca Lowe, second runner-up; Tracy Craiger, first runner-up; Competitions on and Christie Farmer, Miss MECC 1995. In other efforts, Lambda Alpha Epsilon students won the 58th National Conference of the February 25.

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American Criminal Justice Association’s T-shirt design contest. The winning design featured a computer tinted in striking red and blue colors with the clause: “Meet the Newest Police Informant: A High Tech Arresting Development.” Dr. Richard Phillips, Chair of Industrial and Engineering Technology, spoke on “Advanced Management and Planning tools” at the National Association of Industrial Technology Convention in St. Louis, Missouri. MECC’s paralegal (legal assisting) program was upgraded from a one-year certificate program to a two-year associate in applied science degree curriculum. The State Board of Community Colleges approved the upgrade at its spring meeting. The new program became a 66-semesterhour curriculum beginning in Fall Semester 1996. At MECC’s 23rd graduation ceremonies, Ninth District Congressman Rick Boucher urged graduates to make their careers in Southwest Virginia. Boucher addressed approximately 200 graduates and charged them to be masters of their own destinies. Instead of looking elsewhere for opportunities, Boucher suggested that Southwest Virginia was on the brink of economic expansion that would provide greater prospects. The first annual MECC Foundation Golf Tournament occurred in late July. Matches were scheduled at Cedar Hills Country Club, Lonesome Pine Country Club, and Scott county Country Club on July 20 and 21. Proceeds from the tournament would benefit the MECC Foundation Annual Fund Drive. The summer Governor’s School was once again a success. High school students from around the service area participated in the science and math programs. On July 21, sixty-one students graduated.

Sydow named Dean — Debbie Sydow, a native of Pound, Virginia, and a 1985 honors graduate of Clinch Valley College, assumed her duties as Dean of Academic and Student Services at Mountain Empire on July 17, 1995. Sydow earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, a Master of Arts degree in English from Marquette University, and a Ph.D. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She completed post-graduate work in community college administration at Virginia Tech and was an alumna of the American Council on Education’s Fellows program. I look forward to working with the outstanding faculty and staff of Mountain Empire Community College and am fully committed to the college’s mission of providing quality educational programs and services to area citizens. (MECC News Release, 1995)

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I chose to dedicate my professional life to community college education because of my absolute conviction that every citizen in every community—regardless of socio-economic, cultural, ethnic, or academic background—should have access to higher education. As a first-generation college student, I am acutely aware of the power of learning to transform a life. Community colleges with their core mission of access to high quality, affordable educational programs and services are in the business of transforming lives through learning. (Sydow, 2001)

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Dr. Debbie Sydow, as Dean of Academic and Student Services, he always felt is likely the supervisor who played a major role in my you could do professional career development. She made me grow the most . . . made me stretch. She always felt you could do more than more than you ever you ever thought you could. In my opinion, Debbie is the most thought you could. capable administrator that the college has employed in the first 34 years. She made the tough decisions and accomplished so much. She was by no means the most popular administrator to grace our doors, but she was a dean who allowed Dr. Bobby Sandel to be a college president. – Perry Carroll.

More Growth — The REAL thing for entrepreneurs in the region--and the first one for Virginia--came to MECC in August. Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning was implemented after the Virginia REAL entered into contract with the college to establish the first class. The ten-week course, titled “Entrepreneurship—Starting and Managing a Small Business in Virginia,” provided instruction in planning and starting a business or trade. Paul Kuczko, Director of the Wise County Office on Youth, wrote a grant and received $47,700 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to fund entrepreneur programs. Plans were made to begin the program at MECC and expand it into area high schools. On August 28, MECC hosted a teleconference introducing “The Entrepreneur’s Clinic: Negotiations for Success.” Participants in the live interactive broadcast learned key elements of improving negotiation through styles and tactics. Tim Blankenbecler, Director of the Small Business Development Center at MECC, said, “If you know nothing about starting a business, this is a godsend.” (Southwest Business Bureau, 1995) Enrollment continued to grow during Fall Semester 1995, as mine layoffs sent many unemployed miners back to college to renew and upgrade skills. About 200 dislocated workers and about 75 family members and spouses had enrolled by the beginning of classes on August 23, and more were expected within the following two weeks of registration. MECC set up offices for representatives from Career Centers of Southwest Virginia to provide services to miners. MECC Director of Admissions and Records Perry Carroll commented that the miners were suffering stress; however, their attitudes had been remarkably appreciative for the opportunities offered through education to seek new skills leading to jobs to support their families. Former Westmoreland Coal company shift foreman James DeBoard made no bones about the challenge of starting a new career after Westmoreland’s shutdown of coal production on July 31. 208


It’s kind of rough to make ends meet on less than a fifth of what I was making. . . . I’ve got two full years of this (education) to go through till I get my degree. My family will probably get so good at living on nothing that if a little money falls into our hands, we won’t know what to do with it. . . . If the mines open back up, I might go back, but never again will I disregard the importance of education in my life. (Holyfield, Mine Layoffs Send Some, Like DeBoard, Back to School, 1995) The tradition of MECC’s Home Craft Days grew larger and richer after 23 years. After a cold front moved through on October 20th, the weather turned warm and sunny for the festivities on Saturday and Sunday. “Every Year it gets bigger and bigger,” said Sue Ella Boatright, Director of Continuing Education. “We have expanded tremendously. This year we will have over 200 exhibitors, and that’s not counting the food vendors.” (Igo, MECC Braces for Popular Home Craft Days Festival, 1995) MECC’s enrollment figures did indeed rise during 1995. Greater numbers of high school students enrolled in college as freshmen or in the college’s dual enrollment program. President Sandel noted that much of the growth in enrollment seemed to center on technology, industrial, and manufacturing programs, while the transfer programs had remained constant in enrollment. Although Governor George Allen outlined a plan to increase state college budgets by $240 million over the next two years, his proposal was met with disappointment by college presidents and criticism from Til Hazel, leader of a group of businessmen across Virginia. Hazel expressed concern that the budget proposal withheld faculty pay raises for 1996. The budget did suggest a five percent pay raise for 1997.

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1996 In the wake of shortfalls in budgeting for higher education and the closing of Westmoreland Coal Company, MECC began 1996 with concern yet optimism. The college had hoped for more state funds for workforce training and to identify and develop educational programs for the state Department of Corrections to address training needs for jobs at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge prisons. President Sandel estimated that the college had a two-year window to train students for employment at the penal institutions. The proposed raise for faculty for 1996 had been changed to a one-time pay bonus that would not count toward a sustained higher salary or toward retirement benefit status. President Sandel was optimistic, however, about the continued rise in student enrollments. The unfortunate closing of Westmoreland Coal Company had added about 100 students to the college’s full-time equivalent, swelling FTEs to 1,733. Tech Prep and the Corrections Science curriculums were thriving. MECC’s Tech Prep initiative led the way in Virginia. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act supplied funds to prepare young people to enter the workforce. With Wallens Ridge and Red Onion Prisons coming into the area, MECC’s Corrections Science Major was a popular choice for students, especially those looking for a new and promising career. When the prison facilities advertized for job openings in May with promises of future employment opportunities and a “secure” future, interest ran high. The Virginia Department of Corrections held employment seminars in the area and a job fair on MECC’s campus. Hundreds of job-seekers turned out for the meetings. By 2:30 p.m. with three hours left in the day, the campus job fair had more than 300 people show up. Delegates Terry Kilgore and Bud Phillips and Senator William Wampler took the legislative lead in a providing a huge bonus for higher education and for MECC. The Virginia House and Senate increased the biennial budget by over $421 million for higher education. The money provided enough funds that community colleges could freeze tuition hikes for two years. Governor George Allen signed the bill to freeze tuition for 1996-98 and stated his intention to freeze tuition increases through 2000. In another stroke of good news, the legislators earmarked $1.25 million for construction of the new Business Technology and Economic Development building. The additional money would also increase the $4.79 million MECC elegates Kilgore and Phillips, and had received in the 1993 bond issue. After eight years of planning, the new building was ready to go out for bidding.

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Senator Wampler were valuable leaders in securing the funds from the legislature to assist Westmoreland workers laid off on August 1, 1995.

Delegates Kilgore and Phillips, and Senator Wampler were valuable leaders in securing the funds from the legislature to assist Westmoreland workers laid off on August 1, 1995. Many of those workers no longer had unemployment benefits. With MECC’s 25th year arriving in 1997, the college planned 210


to commemorate the anniversary by building an “ellipse” on the campus. The half-acre oval of beautifully landscaped greens, trees, and flowers would be completed by June of 1996. The leafy and tranquil setting would become a focal point for student recreation. It was one of the many efforts of the college to enhance campus beauty under the leadership of President Robert Sandel. The college’s criminal justice club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, sponsored the 1996 Miss Mountain Empire Community College Pageant, held on March 9. Winners were Meri Lynn Pippin of Gate City, Miss Congeniality; Tiffany Taylor of Big Stone Gap, second runner-up; Carmen McNeil of Wise, first runner-up; and Mardee Freeman of Norton, Miss Mountain Empire. Twelve students and three faculty members from MECC won awards at the 59th Annual National Conference of the American Criminal Justice Association during March 16-23 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Student winners were Jeff Sackett, Thelma White, Tony Rhoton, Denny Potter, and others. Faculty winning awards were Narda Boggs, William Osborne, and Cindy Mongle. MECC alumna Rita Sims Quillen returned to campus as the featured speaker for the 20th annual John Fox, Jr. Festival on March 28 in the Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Quillen had published two collections of her works, October Dusk in 1987 and Looking for Native Ground: Contemporary Appalachian Poetry in 1989. She was an Associate Professor of English at Northeast State Technical Community College in Tennessee. Appearing on the program with Quillen was George Salaita, a historian, who spoke of Southwest Virginia’s role in the American Civil War. The college announced a new major in industrial distribution beginning in fall semester. The VCCS approved the new curriculum in March, the first two-year industrial distribution program in the nation. Future graduates from the two-year program could choose careers in the burgeoning industrial distribution job market or transfer into four-year programs. Before classes began in the program, it won recognition from the Virginia Council of Vocational Education as a Tech Prep model program. Program Coordinator J. E. Fugate and MECC Division of Industrial & Engineering Technology Chairman Richard Phillips accepted the award during a meeting in Richmond on June 21. Enrollments rose once again beyond projections. With a projection of 1,645 students for its 199596 budget, MECC had an FTE count of 1,733. MECC President Robert Sandel said the college was carrying a headcount of 200 more students than funded in its budget. Members of MECC’s Omega Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Lambda won contests during the 40th Annual PBL Leadership Conference in Staunton, Virginia. First-place winners were Tina Robinette, computer concepts; Jamie Buckles, desktop publishing; and Frances Sandidge, machine transcription. Third-place winners were Mary Burke, business communications; Shirley Austin, desktop publishing; and Jennifer Blair, information management. Advisers attending the conference were Ann Davis, Shirley Wells, and Peggy Rusek. Over 250 students graduated from MECC at ceremonies held on Friday, May 10, at 6 p.m. Gary Burchette, Vice President for Manufacturing for DeRoyal Industries in Rose Hill, Virginia, was the keynote speaker. 211


Meeting Students’ Needs — Mountain Empire opened a new workforce training center in Duffield, Virginia, in June. Louis Collier, former director of the college’s Tech Prep Program, was appointed director of the new center. Mitzi Holyfield became program coordinator and Debbie Speck was office services assistant. According to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Manufacturers Association, at that time more than two-thirds of Virginia’s businesses contacted local community colleges for work force training. New scholarship funds continued to accrue at MECC. The Virginia Gas Company donated $1,000 to MECC’s Foundation. Friends, family, and colleagues of Connie Reasor established the Connie D. Reasor Memorial Scholarship in memory of the Lee County teacher who had been killed by gunfire while on vacation in New Orleans. The group hoped to raise $15,000 to endow an annual scholarship fund of $750 for a Lee County resident with special needs to attend MECC. The Pennington Gap Middle School faculty and Social Science Club donated $500 to the scholarship. MECC’s second annual benefit golf tournament, held in July, raised monies for MECC’s Foundation. The Agape Gospel Group appeared at the college on August 30 to raise funds for the Charles E. Morris Scholarship. Agape was a gospel and R & B winner of the Contemporary Christian Magazine’s independent artist contest. The college received additional funding from the Federal Work-Study Program for 1996-97. The supplemental monies became available because MECC applied for unused funds not spent at other colleges across the nation. At the time, MECC faced difficulties providing work-study to students because the Virginia Work-Study Program no longer existed.

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A special “Commemorative Brick Project” was established by the Wise County Chamber of Commerce in the memory of Ms. Cheryl Richardson. The Chamber sold 4” by 8” sidewalk bricks for $75 each to raise funds for a scholarship in her name. Cheryl Richardson had been an employee of both MECC and CVC. She died on her birthday, March 24, of cancer. Those buying bricks could designate proceeds to MECC or to CVC.

special “Commemorative Brick Project” was established by the Wise County Chamber of Commerce in tbe memory of Ms. Cheryl Richardson.

MECC offered its first video telecourses in the fall of 1996. The lessons were designed for students who were unable to attend regularly scheduled classes and wished to learn at home. Students checked out videotapes from MECC’s Library, viewed tapes, read from textbooks, met periodically with instructors, and took exams. Classes offered via videotapes the first semester were Art Appreciation, Small Business Management, U. S. History I, Principles of Marketing, Introduction to Psychology I, Child Psychology, and Introduction to Sociology I. Bomb threats had become popular during the mid-nineties. The college’s switchboard operator, Claudia Howard, reported receiving a call on the morning of October 1 from an anonymous male stating that a bomb would detonate at 3 p.m. Everybody evacuated the buildings and gathered 212


on parking lots. Wise County Sheriff Ronnie Oakes and members of the Virginia State Police searched the campus but no bombs were found. That same week, however, an unidentified male was charged for possessing bomb materials. Commonwealth’s Attorney Greg Kallen stated that the youth had two pipe bombs in his possession at his home in Appalachia. Enrollment figures increased again that September. Dr. Sharon Fisher, MECC’s Director of Planning and Community Relations, reported that the summer session 1996 headcount exceeded the 1995 summer enrollment by 12 percent. FTEs were up 7 percent for the same period. The 24th Annual MECC Home Craft Days, October 19 and 20, highlighted music by the Home Folks Band, featuring banjo player Will Keys. Other musical artists appearing were Rye Cove High School junior Kindle Bishop, eleven-year-old fiddler Todd Meade, and twelve-yearold banjo player Matthew Cruby. Older musicians passing their talents down were nonagenarian Nannie Smallwood, Odus Maggard, and Kentucky banjo master LeeBoy Sexton, along with others. The festival officially kicked off MECC’s celebration of 25 years of service to the community. Computers populated MECC’s classrooms and labs by 1996. MECC’s “Cybergeek”Rick Campbell led the college into the new era of virtual education. Rick’s office wall displayed a Certificate of Computer Wizardry that read: “In recognition of your advancement to Computer Wizard, may all your downloads be copacetic.” The award was granted by “The Great Poobahs and High Muckety-Mucks of Cybergeekdom.” (Igo, MECC on Cutting Edge of Cyberspace, 1996) While the award may have been in jest, Campbell’s computer expertise was not. Indeed, Rick’s work assured MECC’s position at the forefront of technology. In November 1996, Campbell showed off MECC’S new ATM switch and the college’s 14 computer labs to local news reporters. The ATM switch took “data coming in and [broke] it into packets for display on a computer screen.” Upstairs in Godwin Hall, “The Learning 213


Place” had fifty computers available for MECC’s students. These innovative machines provided students and people from the community with access to the Internet at a time before Internet became available in homes. “MECC’s ATM switch [was] one of the first in Virginia, a part of a project with Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University. It [was] also a part of one of the first large-scale projects in the United States.” (Igo, MECC on Cutting Edge of Cyberspace, 1996) Rick Campbell first came to MECC as an adjunct instructor in l986-87. Rick joined the full-time teaching faculty in 1990 when technology was just taking hold and MECC had purchased its computers for the Business Technology Division. In 1994, Rick accepted the position as Coordinator of Data Services. He worked on equipment and taught some classes too; and finished out the semester. In the following interview with Leah Hicks and Shirley Wells, Rick discusses his career at MECC: QUESTION: Did MECC have PC’s when you started your current position? ANSWER: The College had Apples; Apple 2Es and MACs at the time. Thanks to the funding of Title III Grants and help from Carolyn Reynolds (Director of Title III), technology improved greatly during the 90s. QUESTION: How has your position evolved? ANSWER: I do a lot of the same things – but the biggest emphasis has been on more reporting and security. QUESTION: Who was the second person hired in Data Services? ANSWER: Tim Bartley was hired next. He had been working at Virginia Highlands and came to MECC in the Electronics Program and worked part-time. QUESTION: How has funding increased since the creation of the Data Services Department in 1994? ANSWER: Technology funding increased when the VCCS started providing technology funds and that’s when things really took off. The most dramatic increase came when Dr. Debbie Sydow was Vice President of Academic and Student Services. MECC he Technology Plan has always been a leader in computer technology. Use of the Technology Plan was developed under the leadership of Dr. developed for MECC Sandel and Dr. Sydow and is still in use today. Both Dr. Sydow was used as a model and Dr. Sandel got lots of professional mileage for the creation throughout the VCCS. of that idea. The Technology Plan developed for MECC was used as a model throughout the VCCS.

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MECC had 20 to 25 PC’s even in the early 80s. The college was very fortunate to have these machines at that time. MECC currently has around 1,000 computers and the Technology Plan is designed on a four-year rotation schedule that replaces them. Most of the requests now from faculty are for multi-media – PowerPoint, podcasting – because everyone has something they use to supplement teaching. Distance Learning changed everything and I don’t know if it was for the best, because most people need to be in a classroom with a teacher. Enrollment suffers some when students don’t have someone to meet with and talk to about staying in school. However, at this time over 40% of MECC’s enrollment includes Distance Education and that’s a lot. QUESTION: How many employees does the computing center have now? ANSWER: Six. QUESTION: Do you have anything else to share? ANSWER: The installation of the network in 1992 had the most impact on how MECC uses technology. Even today there is some of the big cable in place that was used at that time. Robert Wright, who now works in the Technology Center, was a student in one of the C-Big/Saturday classes that I taught. He was a truck driver and was trying to get into some other line of work. QUESTION: Why did you decided to come to MECC to work? You were employed by the city of Kingsport prior to coming to MECC. ANSWER: I loved working for the City of Kingsport, but I wanted summers off and wanted to be closer to home. When I first came to work the college was on a four-day schedule and I had Fridays off. But that didn’t last long and I discovered that I never did have a summer off either. QUESTION: What has been the best thing about your MECC experience? ANSWER: I like the variety of things that I’ve got to do since I’ve been here. Things are always changing and I bore easily. QUESTION: What challenges have you faced? ANSWER: The lack of funding and adequate staffing. QUESTION: What has been the biggest change? ANSWER: Distance Education is the biggest change. QUESTION: What is your most unforgettable event or character? 215


ANSWER: When Dr. Debbie Sydow was here, my department reported to her. She called one day and asked for some Nudist Software. After a long silence, she said, “OH, IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK.” The Nudist Software was a Qualitative Analysis Package Software. You could think a million things about that.

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he called one day and asked for some Nudist Software.

QUESTION: How many supervisors have you had since accepting your current position? ANSWER: I’ve reported to Randy Castle, David Johnson, Reginald St. Clair, Bob Day, Patti Cantrell, Sharon Fisher, Jim Durham, Conley Winebarger, and at the present time, Richard Phillips. Let’s see, that’s about nine or so. QUESTION: What is your greatest accomplishment? ANSWER: Gosh, I’d have to think about that and get back to you. Multimedia presentations became popular choices to prepare students for business positions in the emerging computer age. MECC’s IST 137, Business Graphics Software, introduced students to business graphics programs. Enrollees in the class displayed their multimedia graphics presentations to the public on December 5, 1996. Professors Fran Chadwell and Dana Crismond developed IST 137 together and team-taught it during its initial session that fall. Crismond taught Freelance Graphics for the first eight weeks and Chadwell taught Harvard Graphics for the second half of the course.

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1997 When Spring Semester 1997 began, MECC still had fourteen off-campus sites offering classes. For the first time in five years, however, enrollment at the college declined. FTEs dropped from a high of 1,850 in the fall of 1995 to 1,762 during the fall of 1996. With a drop in population in MECC’s service area, President Robert Sandel expected lower enrollment figures to persist. To address lower enrollment, Dr. Debbie Sydow, MECC’s Dean of Academic and Student Affairs, proposed new ways to reach students. The college’s general technology plan included a reorganization of how computer support, library services, and off-campus classes would be provided to students. The college established a Computer Information Technology Center under the direction of Rick Campbell to integrate computer hardware and software and to train faculty and students how to use the equipment. Distance Education merged with Continuing Education to manage technology at off-campus sites. The technology plan also called for email access for all faculty and students. At the time MECC was broadcasting fiber optics classes to four off-campus sites via the Southwest Virginia Educational Television Network (SVETN) with plans to offer more classes over compressed video. But computer-aided instruction was coming, and its impact would change the face of education.

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The other major change I believe is the extensive use of adjuncts. I don’t know if that is as great a change as I would like it to be. In fact, right now we’re working with Achieving the Dream and one of the aspects of that particular program is more faculty engagement with students, and one of the things I brought up to our outside folks that come in is that I hope that through their national experience they would look closely at the two major changes we’ve seen in the past 15 to 20 years: the great use of adjuncts and technology. Both of those have created an environment where we have less student engagement. So, hopefully, across the nation, as we look at these things and think about solutions to some of those concerns, we will improve the effectiveness and access of our services. – Gary Bumgarner

my Hicks, a 1996 graduate of Powell Valley High School, earned 17 college credits before graduating and earned her associate’s degree fom MECC in the summer of 1997.

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hope that through their national experience they would look closely at the two major changes we’ve seen in the past 15 to 20 years: the great use of adjuncts and technology.

In addition to those efforts, MECC increased its dual enrollment efforts to area high schools, beginning new classes at J. I. Burton and Powell Valley High Schools in the fall. Students such as Amy Hicks, a 1996 graduate of Powell Valley High School, earned 17 college credits before graduating and earned her associate’s degree from MECC in the summer of 1997. 217


Old Dominion University launched its Teletechnet network that linked eighteen bachelor’s degree programs to MECC’s campus. The network fed televised classes via satellite and computer email links with ODU instructors teaching in Norfolk, Virginia. ODU site director, Ronald R. Woodard, set up his “branch campus” in Room 160 of Godwin Hall. Renewed efforts paid off almost immediately as MECC reported increased enrollment for Spring Semester 1997. Total enrollment topped 2,500 for the first time, with increases occurring among part-time, evening, and off-campus students. With the national economy improving, MECC turned its efforts toward receiving greater funding for technology, increases in faculty salaries, and more student financial aid. Funding was essential to improve the delivery of and to expand distance learning. President Robert Sandel said he hoped the General Assembly would approve an additional $18 million for higher education institutions, bringing proposed faculty raises up from 2 percent to 4 or 6 percent. Sandel also expressed hope for an additional $24 million to pay some of the unmet financial needs of eligible students. Mary Phillips achieved licensed professional counselor status upon completing requirements by the Virginia Department of Health Professions. The rigorous licensing process involved passing a state board examination, completing 60 graduate credit hours in counseling, and sitting for 200 hours in clinical consultation with a licensed professional counselor. Phillips became one of eight professional counselors in the LENOWISCO region. Alice Harrington led a group of students on an eight-day excursion to Venice, Bologna, Florence, Assisi, and Rome, Italy. The trip was the first of a popular tour-program that would continue over the following years. As it grew in popularity, the annual expedition would become part of MECC’s International Education Program with its own advisory committee. After building interest and success in the student tours, Alice Harrington would turn her duties as tour director over to Michael Strouth, who now leads busloads of students each May to exciting locales around the world. MECC’s 1997 Miss Mountain Empire Pageant on March 8 presented eight young women vying for the crown. Contestants were Necole Fusion, Rebecca Camille Lowe of Norton, Chasity Mefford of Pound, Jennifer Bowen of Big Stone Gap, Jennifer Shastid of Clintwood, Robin Counts of Nora, Shauna Marie Ballard of Big Stone Gap, Heather Dawn Holbrook of Wise, and Jessica Dawn Wheatley of Wise. Willie May Price Harris, MECC’s Educational Support Specialist II, Student Recruitment, won appointment to the Norton School Board. Willie was also president of the Norton Elementary School ParentTeacher Association. Her work in the community in support of education was exemplary of college personnel’s community service. Price Harris said, “I want to be on the school board and to be involved with the school and community because of my children. I want to see benefits for all students in school, not just mine.” (Tate S. , 1997) Ramond Burgin was the keynote speaker at the college’s Alpha Delta 218


Psi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa induction ceremonies on March 9. Jim Strength and John Cotham inducted new members and named officers: George Willis, President; Wanda Parsons, VicePresident; Susie Austin, Secretary; Kim Jones, Treasurer; and Glenda Stiltner, Historian.

Kinflicks Comes to MECC — Kingsport native author Lisa Alther was the featured speaker at the 21st annual John Fox, Jr. Festival on March 27. Alther had five successful novels in print: Kinflicks, Original Sins, Other Women, Bedrock, and Five Minutes in Heaven.

The Day John taught Pavlina how to drive — MECC’s Professional Librarian John Cotham was involved in many club, cultural and arts activities. He was co-sponsor of Phi Theta Kappa, the first faculty representative of the MECC Education Foundation, an instructor of library classes, and a member of the college’s Faculty Senate. His champion moment, however, may have come on an April drive from Tri-Cities Airport to Big Stone Gap. Pavlina was an accomplished concert pianist on tour; Cotham was MECC’s volunteer host in charge of seeing that she arrived on verything would have been time for her 12:15 piano virtuoso performance hunky-dory except that Pavlina in MECC’s Dalton-Cantrell Auditorium. Everything would have been hunky-dory except Dokovska’s flight arrived late at that Pavlina Dokovska’s flight arrived late at Charlotte, causing her to miss her Charlotte, causing her to miss her connection to connection to Blountville. Blountville. No problem: JC to the rescue.

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Once John found Pavlina, he tossed the keys to the rental car at her and explained that he would lead the way through a driving rain storm from Blountville to Big Stone Gap. No-no! Pavlina enlightened John. She had lived in New York where nobody drove a car as long as there was a taxi within hailing distance. So, she queried, how does one go about driving on these wet and curvy roads? You’re just having one of those bad travel days, John assured the highly skilled artist. He added a confident smile that did not overcome her apprehension. Believe it or not, they made the trip with Pavlina at the wheel and John as navigator. John admitted Pavlina’s driving wrecked his nerves. But all ended well. Pavlina proved a much better performer on piano keys than on asphalt. Later, after listening to her concert, John was as serene as a . . . well, a librarian again.

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‘97 Was a Year of Donations and Growth — In April, MECC received the 1996 Certification of Significant Achievement award. President Robert Sandel traveled to Richmond, Virginia, to accept the honor at the Marriot Hotel. During the college’s 25th Anniversary Gala held on April 26th, MECC’s Foundation gained several donations, including $20,000 from the Ford Foundation Rural Community College Initiative to help economically distressed areas increase jobs, income, and educational access; the Campbell W. and Mary Virginia Edmonds Scholarship donated by the C. Bascom Slemp Foundation; the Goodloe Brothers Educational Foundation Fund created by the Goodloe Brothers Partnership in memory of John Mills, Edward Everett, and William Tavenor Goodloe; the Johan A. Reid Scholarship Fund established by the C. Bascom Slemp Foundation Board of Directors; and the Martha A. Turnage Scholarship Fund, established by Martha A. Turnage, a charter member of MECC���s faculty. MECC also received a $100 donation from Mountain Empire Chapter of Professional Secretaries for a business technology scholarship and a $100 donation from the Lee County Democratic Women’s Club to the Connie D. Reasor Scholarship. In June, MECC’s Educational Foundation created the R. V. Chadwell Scholarship to honor the Lee County Sheriff who had died in 1996. The scholarship provided $500 to a high school senior from Lee County who enrolled in the college’s Law Enforcement Program. U. S. Senator William Wampler spoke to the largest graduating class ever, over 350 candidates, at commencement services celebrating MECC’s 25 years of service. Senator Wampler had played a key role in obtaining $1 million to assist displaced miners. He told the graduates, “You, who knew few other skills than the mining industry required, graduate tonight with new skills in a host of other fields, putting you on the path to new employment opportunities.” (Mays P. K., 1997) Donald L. Ratliff was elected Chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges in June 1997, giving Southwest Virginia and MECC a powerful voice in state educational decisions. Ratliff was Vice President of Health and Safety for Pittston Coal Management Company in Lebanon. MECC’s GAIN Program earned a four-year student services grant. Congressman Rick Boucher notified the college of the award of $185,189 for the first year of the four-year period. Program Director Regenia Massey, Counselor Jessica Genco, and Academic Skills Coordinator Martha Perkins were co-writers of the grant. The college hired a new business manager and a new accountant in July as a part of restructuring the business office. Donna Shelton began duties as business manager on July 16. Shelton held a Bachelor of Science degree from Radford University and was a certified public accountant. Roger Spencer became MECC’s new accountant on July 29. Spencer held a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from Radford University and had fourteen years experience in auditing accounts. Enrollment rose again that August as MECC offered new programs. The 1,678 fall semester FTE count was 5 percent higher than the 1596 FTEs for the previous fall semester. That increase followed an all-time summer enrollment of 416 FTEs. Sharon Fisher reported that President 220


Sandel was helping a traffic officer direct cars onto the campus during the eight-o-clock rush hour. In its twenty-five years of operation, MECC had grown from 803 students (388 FTEs) to an annual enrollment of 4,207 students (1,820 FTEs). The Respiratory Therapy Program upgraded for fall semester, offering a new, advanced respiratory care certificate. After completion of a respiratory care diploma, students could earn the advanced certificate by taking the Written Registry and the Clinical Stimulation Examination of the National Board for Respiratory Care. MECC began its Manufacturing Technology Program during the 1997 fall semester and continued it into 1997. It aimed at training individuals to work in the expanding small business and manufacturing sector in the area. Richard Phillips led an industrial distribution workshop featured at the “High Schools That Work” Conference in Richmond August 11. President Sandel announced at the September 9 College Advisory Board meeting that MECC’s Educational Foundation was expected to receive a large donation, perhaps more than $2 million. Sandel declined to identify the benefactors of the donation at that time, but he did suggest that the college name its new Economic Development and Business Technology Building after the benefactors. If (when) the gift arrived, it would rank MECC in the top three for funds raised among the VCCS’s 23 colleges and within the top 25 percent of community colleges nationwide. The 26th Annual Home Craft Days once again featured mountain music and hundreds of craft displays. Held on October 18 and 19, the festival featured a concert by the Home Folks and storytelling by Skin & Bonz in addition to the musical performances. Rich Kirby appeared as special guest performer. 1997 had been a landmark year for MECC. Twenty-five years of service, continued enrollment growth, new articulation agreements with four-year colleges, fast-paced innovations in technology, recognition for its quality education, greatly increased support from grants and donations, and imminent physical changes highlighted the year. Indeed, MECC looked forward to beginning its next twenty-five years with lifted spirits and hope. For its continuous improvement efforts, MECC would receive the 1997 U. S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award (SPQA). MECC was the only college or university honored along with fifteen manufacturing service, government, and educational organizations. Dr. Sharon Fisher accepted the award in Richmond on April 30, 1998. It recognized the dedication and high quality work of the staff and faculty at the college.

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1998 MECC gained a supporting voice in local government when Tim Blankenbecler, Director of Small Business Development, became president of the Wise County Chamber of Commerce for 1998. Blankenbecler was a native of Scott County and had been at MECC since 1993. Telecommunications, too, were about to expand for the college. Circuit Court Clerk Jack Kennedy drafted a resolution placed before the Wise County Board of Supervisors by County Administrator Scott Davis asking that Century Communications provide a cable television channel to MECC to broadcast selected classes. The cablecasting channel would allow MECC to offer more videotaped classes and to offer them directly to home televisions. The college received promised funds from its $150,000 Ford Foundation Rural Community College Initiative grant after a six-month planning process with community leaders and collaboration with national education and economic advisors and twenty-three other community colleges. The funds would help MECC initiate a leadership development program, increase work-based education, and provide a “one-stop shopping” center for job information.

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ellmont Health Systems Foundation awarded six $1,250 Ambassador Scholarships to MECC students who were pursuing study in nursing and respiratory therapy.

Other donations came from local organizations. Wellmont Health Systems Foundation awarded six $1,250 Ambassador Scholarships to MECC students who were pursuing study in nursing and respiratory therapy. Nationsbank created an endowed scholarship to assist students from Wise and Scott counties attending MECC.

In the summer, more grants became available. Representative Rick Boucher announced a $231,516 federal grant to assist individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds who showed potential to succeed in higher education. Additionally, Boucher announced an ARC grant of $59,308 to help extend leadership to support economic development. Patti Cantrell, Dean of Financial and Administrative Services, was appointed as Virginia’s representative to the Virginia College Business Officers Association (CCBO) in March. CCBO was a national organization representing chief business officers of community colleges. Lambda Alpha Epsilon sponsored its annual Ms. Mountain Empire Community College pageant on March 14. Contestants included Amber Bolling, Shasta Bradley, Christie Michelle Collins, Jennifer Crawford, Amy Dickenson, Andrea Swiney, and Shannon Ward. As the college’s public computers gained greater use, the college turned to DLT Solutions, an affiliate of Oracle, to purchase 30 new network computers. Rick Campbell explained that the additional computers allowed greater access while reducing costs.

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In the fall of 1998, Jim Burns taught the first Web course—completely homemade—designing his Homepage with help from Rick Campbell, who provided Jim with an html editor and a threaded discussion board. Jim built client side and user side sites. He constructed quizzes so that students could not see answers. Rick set up the server side. The site had full online content.

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n the fall of 1998, Jim Burns taught the first Web course completely homemade - designing his Homepage with help froom Rick Campbell, who provided Jim with an html editor and a threaded discussion board.

Early classes had low enrollment because the approach was innovative far “before its time.” Faculty had no training in Web-base instruction, colleges lacked adequate equipment, and few students had Internet connections. All these circumstances made Burns’ Web class a bold venture and his efforts all the more remarkable. Jim’s enthusiasm opened Web technology to other faculty members and brought computer classes to area students before faculty and students at other colleges had Web classes. His skills were evident early on, as was his wit and humor. After Jim Burns set up the first online class, Shirley Wells designed and taught a Web class the following fall semester. MECC’s fledgling program was later to propagate into full online offerings for many classes taught at the college. The college’s dual enrollment program gained momentum during 1998 as local superintendents signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with President Robert Sandel to continue the successful program. The agreement opened opportunities for qualified junior and senior high school students to earn college credits in an expanded list of dual enrollment classes under the Virginia Plan for Dual Enrollment. Superintendents John Collier of Lee County, Mike Basham of Wise County, Bill Passan of Norton City, and Jim Scott of Scott County signed on for their school districts. New York Times best-selling novelist Sharyn McCrumb was the featured speaker at the 22nd annual John Fox, Jr. Festival on March 26. McCrumb, originally from North Carolina, had published fifteen novels. Also speaking at the festival was Dr. Brian Willis, Associate Professor of History at Clinch Valley College.

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CCS Chancellor Arnold Oliver addressed over 350 graduates at MECC’s 1998 commencement.

VCCS Chancellor Arnold Oliver addressed over 350 graduates at MECC’s 1998 commencement. Oliver described the area as “the [loveliest] setting of any of our community colleges in all of Virginia. The Southwest is beautiful not only in its land, but in its people.” Oliver called MECC a special place. “It creates opportunity . . . as surely as candles punch holes in the darkness. So love, do well, and fiercely care. God be with you.” (Igo, VCCS Chancellor Heaps Praise, Challenges on MECC Graduates, 1998) 223


Accolades went to Dr. Sharon Fisher, Neka Wilson, and Jennifer Rose, who collaborated on the design of MECC’s viewbook, a publication that won the gold award, known as the Paragon, in the annual competitions sponsored by National Council for Marketing and Public Relations. Tim Cox of Norton and B&B Printing and Digital Communications of Bristol also contributed to the viewbook.

Sandel’s Promise of Big Gift from Mysterious Donors Comes True — The names Nell Taylor Phillips and French Elaine Taylor became imprinted upon the college after it was revealed in July that the sisters had bequeathed a combined $2.1 million to the Foundation. For a number of summers, while visiting French Elaine Taylor at her home in Wise, Texas resident Nell Taylor Phillips had dropped by the president’s office to give the college a $10,000 check. On July 14, Dr. Robert Sandel revealed that the sisters had left the largest donation the college had ever received. Nell and French had died within a month of each other in 1996. Sandel said Phillips and Taylor “made a tremendous, but quiet, contribution as public school teachers. . . . At their deaths they also ensured that the same types of life-changing educational opportunities that they provided as teachers would continue to be provided for students attending (MECC).” (Igo, Sisters Leave $2.1 Million for MECC, 1998) In recognition of the sisters’ munificence, the college elected to name its new Economic Development and Business Technology Building, Phillips-Taylor Hall. The $2.1 million contribution, an unrestricted gift, raised the MECC Foundation funds to more than $4.4 million. The college ranked near the top of colleges nationwide in foundation funds. Following his announcement of the Phillips-Taylor gift, Sandel told MECC’s College Advisory Board he had been appointed to lead a special state panel on Workforce Development and would take a sabbatical from his post as MECC’s president until his appointment duties were completed. While he was away, MECC’s Dean of Academic and Student Services, Dr. Debbie Sydow, would serve as interim president of the college. Sandel expected to work on the workforce project until November.

Sydow Leads Technology Development — From 1996 through 1998, MECC had worked to develop a high-tech infrastructure for computer connections. The college had brought in equipment, upgraded buildings, wired networks, including fiber optic lines. During the next two years (1998 – 2000), the college would focus more on software to upgrade to the latest versions for processing documents, working spreadsheets, and creating designs, as well as accessing email. As another part of the program, the college would 224


begin in Fall Semester 1998 broadcasting classes over channel 60 of Century Communications in Norton. Later that year, in October, Debbie Sydow was named an ACE Fellow for 1998 – 99 by the American Council of Education. Stanley O. Ikenberry, President of ACE, announced Sydow’s selection.

Elosser Redux — Bonnie Elosser, a charter member of MECC’s administrative staff, returned to the college as Director of Student Services in October. Elosser said she had never planned to work in a community college but had dreamed of teaching high school English. She had first arrived at the college in 1972, about six months before the college opened, but had worked recently at Clinch Valley College for Dr. Joe Smiddy. “When I first came to MECC . . . I started as the director of financial aid. Then the first president of the college kept adding duties and finally he said, ‘I want you to be the director of student services.’” (Kennedy, 1998)

Home Crafts one more time and Santa too — The 27th annual Home Craft Days, October 17 and 18, “outdid itself” with more than 200 crafts people displaying vessels and goodies from dozens of tents and tables. Sue Ella Boatright, who directed the two-day festival, stepped out of her usual role to play the giant banjo set up to decorate the setting. Thousands of visitors gathered on the college campus to taste local cuisine such as soup beans and greens and to listen to bluegrass, gospel and old-time country music. MECC’s Criminal Justice Club and the Technology Club combined efforts to raise money to give area residents and children a frightfully haunting Halloween evening. Wizards escorted groups through the forests around MECC’s campus to visit “ancient spirits in the night.” It was a perfectly spooky experience. Cindy Mongle, advisor of the Criminal Justice Club, called it more gothic horror than Alfred Hitchcock. While the Criminal Justice Club oversaw the “spirits,” 225


the Technology Club was in charge of refreshments. Those who looked back on MECC’s history thought the Learning Resources Children’s Christmas program had discontinued in the early nineties; however, it was still going stronger than ever in 1998. Christmas chaos on campus truly brought miles of smiles as more than 2,400 four- and five-year olds lined up during the three days to whisper their dreams into Santa’s ear. Mel Bullock commented that he should have kept attendance numbers over the 27 years. After attending MECC as a student in the 70s, Fred Coeburn returned to campus in 1998 in his new role as instructor of computer information systems. I never had any intention or desire to become a teacher. I thought I’d just go to college, have some fun (that’s what high school was all about), get an education, and let the chips fall where they may – sort of go with the flow. I had taught Boy Scouts as a summer staff member of Camp Davy Crockett in Rogersville, TN, during high school but that didn’t seem like teaching – I was just sharing my scouting knowledge with younger scouts. Anyway, after traveling around the world working for the Air Force and National Security Agency, I found myself back here in the good old hills of Southwest Virginia needing something to keep me occupied. MECC called the house one day and asked if I’d be interested in teaching a few adjunct classes in computer science for them and I said, “What the heck. I’ll give it a go.”

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Did they say “A few classes?” What an understatement! I ended up teaching more credits than the full time instructors. Between the Business Technologies and Continuing Ed Divisions’ classes, I was working something like 5 days, two nights, and most every Saturday each week. After a few years, Carol Noonkester decided to retire and I replaced her as a full time computer science/business instructor. It turned out that I was actually good at relating to students and actually enjoyed teaching more than anything I had ever done previously. If I could have known this much earlier, I’m sure my life’s path would have been much different and I would have focused on a teaching career much earlier. – Fred Coeburn

ECC called the house one day and asked if I’d be interested in teaching a few adjunct classes in computer science for them and I said, “What the heck. I’ll give it a go.”

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1999 – Closing the Century Throughout 1999 everybody worried about the Y2K Bug; Governor Gilmore sought tuition relief for students through a proposed 20 percent cut in charges; the VCCS asked for $8 million for workforce training in community colleges; and MECC expected to complete construction on Phillips-Taylor Hall by year’s end. Dr. Sue Mays of Dungannon, MECC’s Advisory Board Chairman, won a certificate of recognition from the VCCS for her contributions to MECC. Dean of Academic and Student Services Dr. Debbie Sydow took a leave of absence during spring semester to visit Cuyohoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of an American Council of Education Fellowship. And Assistant Professor of Drafting Gerry Laney led the debate to include a faculty member on community college advisory boards. Those were the concerns opening the century’s final year. Two MECC students who would achieve fame in later years also made news. Thomas and Julius Jones attended MECC in the college’s dual enrollment program while they were seniors at Powell Valley High School. In January 1999, Thomas was completing his junior year at the University of Virginia and looking forward to the NFL, and Julius--enrolled in freshmen transfer classes at MECC--announced that he would attend Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, the following year on a football scholarship.

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homas and Julius Jones attended MECC in the college’s dual enrollment program while they were seniors at Powell Valley High School.

The college’s Respiratory Care program gained re-accreditation following a visit from the National Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. The U. S. Navy signed a pact with MECC to embark on an associate’s degree program in Tech Prep. Students choosing the program would earn 25 credits at MECC in general studies requirements and electronics courses before entering the Navy. Students then received guaranteed training in electronics. The Navy would pay tuition plus a generous sign-on bonus. Indeed, the first sailors enrolled at MECC that fall. Matt Templeton and Scott Barker, graduates of Gate City High School, attended the college’s general studies curriculum beginning in August. A similar program brought Joy Manufacturing employees to MECC. The college began offering manufacturing technology classes in 1997 to launch a two-year curriculum in Virginia. Joy Manufacturing Manager Mike Lane came to campus in July 1999 to look at using tech-prep classes to help upgrade employee skills at his company. MECC also signed a tech-prep articulation agreement with Russell County in September to award credits to high school students taking selected classes at the county’s Career and Technology Center. Students could earn up to 12 college credits toward MECC’s two-year Associate Degree in Manufacturing Technology. It was the only associate manufacturing degree in Virginia. MECC’s Law Enforcement Club, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, proved too tough for about 600 227


participants from 75 other colleges at the American Criminal Justice Association’s National Conference in New Orleans. The club won the prestigious Lambda Alpha Epsilon National Spirit Award. MECC opened its small business incubator in Duffield in April. Congressman Rick Boucher and local state legislators attended the ribbon-cutting exercises on Saturday morning, April 17.

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o reward college employees, Sandel treated them to a party on Thursday, April 23, on the college campus.

College employees called it “continuous improvement.” In 1998, MECC won a Medallion of Excellence from the Board of the U. S. Senate Quality and Productivity Award. Dr. Robert Sandel traveled to Richmond in April to receive the award. He pointed to the hard work of everyone at MECC as essential to winning the prize. To reward college employees, Sandel treated them to a party on Thursday, April 23, on the college campus.

May 1, MECC’s Foundation Gala featured Brass 5 at the Ramada Inn in Duffield. Proceeds from the gala went to support Foundation funds for student scholarships, tuition, and textbooks. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kinser encouraged more than 350 MECC graduates on May 14 to use their time effectively to accomplish their goals in the coming millennium. A Lee County native, Kinser congratulated the graduates and thanked their families, the staff and faculty of MECC for their support and diligence. Susan Kennedy accepted the position of Assistant Coordinator of Distance Learning at MECC in July. Her appointment reflected the need for coordination of growing numbers of students taking advantage of the convenience and flexibility of distance learning classes. “MECC students simply do not have the option of attending normally scheduled classes,” MECC Dean of Academic and Student Services Debbie Sydow said. “Those seeking higher education should not be expected to change their lives to accommodate the college’s schedule.” Kennedy had been employed at MECC on a part-time basis since 1997. (MECC News Relase, 1999)

RCCI — The Ford Foundation’s Rural Community College Initiative at MECC set up a core team of Sandy Biggs, Ron Flanary, Ed Hutchinson, Robert Sandel and Donna Stanley to begin leadership programs in the area. RCCI teams planned to set up leadership programs in Scott, Lee, and Dickenson counties with local chambers of commerce. These programs, coordinated by Kim Arwood of MECC’s Center for Workforce Development, focused on community problem solving through clearlydefined, hands-on projects. To facilitate problem solving, the group planned to build community infrastructure by providing initial administrative costs for a Coalfield Water Development Fund. Furthermore, RCCI intended to include service learning by creating a classroom and community course—rural sociology—that placed students as tutors in public schools or as assistants at water/ wastewater treatment plants or in other public agencies. 228


RCCI reached another level when it went international. It brought in Richard (Dick) Chamberlain and his wife Linda to promote understanding between community colleges in the U.S. and projects in Africa, particularly in Namibia. The Chamberlains wished to learn about MECC’s student support services, career development center, and business development initiatives. In return, Dick, as a resident Fulbright scholar, planned to team-teach a business law class at MECC and to visit other classes to acquaint students with Namibia and his work on the Northern Campus Project at the University of Namibia. Later that December (December 1 – 3), a group from the University of Namibia toured MECC to learn how the college’s community-based mission and programs could translate to needs at the university’s northern campus located hundreds of miles from the main campus in Africa. Chamberlain noted that MECC was a very practical place that identifies needs and designs ways to meet them.

Enrollments up; Donations arrive — By September 3, both headcount and FTE enrollments were up by 5 percent over the previous fall. Total student headcount reached 2,585, while FTEs climbed to 1,734. Strong summer enrollments boosted predictions the college would have its highest enrollment ever during 1999-2000. Summer session saw 1,207 student headcount and 445 FTEs. At the time MECC offered “continuous enrollment” to students in distance learning sections, a practice that allowed students to enroll late during a semester and continue beyond the semester’s end date until course requirements were completed. Nationsbank contributed $5,000 to MECC’s Foundation for an endowed scholarship available to students from Scott and Wise Counties. The scholarship assisted students who showed academic promise and financial need. Mr. and Mrs. James “Dutchy” Morris of Big Stone Gap established the Anna Barron Morris Scholarship for Lee and Wise County students attending MECC. Anna Barron Morris, James’ mother, was an active civic leader in Big Stone Gap before her death in 1997. She had served as the General Chairman of the Steering Committee to establish Lonesome Pine Hospital in 1967. Joe Rasnick, President and Scholarship Fund Director of Big Stone Gap Masonic Lodge #208, presented a check for $5,000 to Donna Stanley, Executive Director of MECC’s Foundation, in December. The money created the Square and Compasses Masonic Scholarship to benefit Powell Valley High School graduates attending MECC. Angelia Reynolds, President of the Mountain Empire Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, gave the MECC Foundation a scholarship check to assist a student enrolled in a business technology program. Reynolds had received the IAAP “President’s Success Award” for her diligence in working with MECC to pay for one-half of membership dues to five college employees to join IAAP.

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As the century neared close, MECC did not worry about the Y2-K Bug, but looked forward to two improvements, one at the campus’ entrance and another in campus technology. The Virginia Department of Transportation painted turn arrows and bigger stop signs at the intersection of U.S. 23 and Route 387 to help prevent frequent accidents. Two 48-inch stop signs replaced the previous 36-inch stops signs at the road’s exit below the college, and thick white “stop bars” were painted on the lanes to discourage people leaving the college from making “rolling” stops. MECC also asked for two new computer programs to begin in the new century. Undaunted by Y2-K Bug predictions, the college would begin a computer network technology program and a computer software specialist major. Not everybody was confident we would escape the Eschaton of Y2-K. My motherin-law cooked five gallons of beef stew on December 31, 1999, out of fear the “Bug” would destroy the U. S. electric grid and leave us all in the dark. According to her, not a single appliance in her kitchen would ever work again, and we would face extinction by starvation. At least the beef stew would keep her family going longer than most. – Anon We began getting ready for Y2-K in July 1998. Our concern was that all systems would crash because programs used only two numbers: 97, 98, 99. . . . When that big New-York-City ball fell at midnight on New Year’s Eve and the digits rolled over to January 1. 2000, what would happen? When all those double zeroes came to pass, would the world revert to 1900? Or worse—dateline 0000? Would all electricity—run by computers—end? Would the water plants shut off?

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hen all those double zeroes came to pass, would the world revert to 1900? Or worse - dateline 0000? Would all electricity - run by computers - end?

I do wonder sometimes what would have happened if we had not prepared. We worked to upgrade all MECC’s computers so they were Y2-K compatible. I recall that we went around campus and put Y2-K stickers on everything, including computers, in the college. – Tim Bartley

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Phillips-Taylor Hall The crowning event of the fall, the year, and perhaps the century for MECC was the opening and dedication of Phillips-Taylor Hall on Friday 14 of October, just before the annual Home Craft Days Festival on Saturday and Sunday. It was truly a gala weekend. Arts and crafts display booths and tables adorned the campus with an atmosphere of fall harvest, and the grand new structure was bathed in lights and vibrant with activity. The new facility had recently been completed and was ready for occupancy. Included in the building’s splendid design were the Goodloe Center and the Slemp Commons. Special events began on Wednesday in the Goodloe Center with the performance of Pergolesi’s “La Serva Padrona,” (“The Servant Mistress”) an opera sponsored by Pro-Arts and the University of Virginia at Wise. On Thursday at 12:15 p.m., James Still, author of River of Earth, presented a lecture for students and other interested residents. Following Friday’s dedication ceremony at 1 p.m., a reception and open house welcomed visitors to refreshments on the Slemp Commons. Activities were capped off Friday night by “A Salute to Broadway and The Big Apple” concert by John and Mary Wilson. Saturday night Jose Meliton and Elena Martin performed in a second concert titled “Music for Two Pianos.”

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he new facility, if built, would expand the college’s available floor space by 51,500 square feet, almost fifty percent of its existing 107,000 square feet.

The festivities were a grand finale to years of planning and work leading to the opening of Phillips-Taylor Hall extending back to the spring of 1996. That March (1996) the college advertised bids for construction of the building. In July, President Robert Sandel looked for state procurement officers to approve bids on the proposed $5.5 million Business Technology/Economic Development Building. The new facility, if built, would expand the college’s available floor space by 51,500 square feet, almost fifty percent of its existing 107,000 square feet. These plans coincided with another project to complete the roadway loop around the campus.

Because of delays in action on bidding, however, contractors’ bids were not opened until May 1997. Dean of Financial and Administrative Services Patti Cantrell named Quesenberry’s of Big Stone Gap as the apparent low bidder with a bid of $4.6 million to act as general contractor of the project. The bid still required certification by state officials and public posting before it would be awarded. As plans gradually moved forward, Sandel asked MECC’s Advisory Board to request a $635,000 non-general fund bond from the state treasury to build a large parking lot near the new building to solve the college’s inadequate parking problem. The proposed parking lot would add approximately 110 new parking spaces. Funds to repay the bond would come from a student general auxiliary fee. In addition, the college asked the Wise County Budget Committee to contribute $216,000 as a share of the funds for the parking lot and for upgrading sidewalks and other capital projects around the new building.

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By March of 1998, reports indicated construction of the new building was lagging behind schedule. Instead of projections of opening the facility for public use by August 1, 1998, the revised opening appeared to be October 6—possibly. At the time, the construction crew was still trying to complete the second of three milestones, laying the foundation and concrete walls. The third milestone would be completing the roof. It was not to be. Severe winter weather and excessive spring rains (“April is the cruelest month of the year.”) were blamed for setbacks. Sandel announced in November 1998 that “. . . things are full steam ahead for fall semester ’99. We’ll make our transition during the summer.” (Hass, 1998) At this time costs for the building were reported at $6.3 million. In June of 1999, prospects looked good for moving into Phillips-Taylor Hall in July. The 51,500 square foot building would house not only MECC’s Business Technologies Programs, but also the Continuing Education Division, the Center for Workforce Development, the Small Business Development Center, and the Career Centers for Southwest Virginia’s Dislocated Worker’s Program. In addition, the Goodloe Center would provide 400 seats for performances and conferences or 200 dining places for banquets. The expansive center was named for the Big Stone Gap family of pioneers John Mills, Edward Everett, and William Tavenor Goodloe. Sharon Fisher, speaking for MECC, said the building would open by fall and would have dedication ceremonies in October.

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haron Fisher’s prophetic prediction proved accurate.

Sharon Fisher’s prediction proved accurate. Congressman Rick Boucher’s 5th annual 9th District Internet Conference on September 27 was the facility’s inaugural event. About 350 people attended Boucher’s conference and toured the new building. MECC President Robert Sandel reported that the college did not receive the occupancy permit until September 16, so college personnel would not move in until the following weeks. All factors were set for the grand opening during Home Crafts weekend in mid-October. Arnold Oliver, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, proclaimed MECC’s Phillips-Taylor Hall the best facility of its kind in the state at dedication ceremonies e saved the October 15. Former Virginia Delegate Ford Quillen and Delegate Bud Phillips spoke of the fruits of their efforts and the growth best for last,” and opportunity the building represented. “We saved the best for Chancellor Oliver said. last,” Chancellor Oliver said. (Kennedy L. A., 1999)

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Reflections of MECC Carolyn Helms Several years ago Dr. Sharon Fisher and I were speculating about some of the reasons students choose to enroll at Mountain Empire Community College. I’m paraphrasing, but I recall Dr. Fisher suggested they enroll when they feel the need. As I thought about my own experiences at MECC and began to put together some reflections, it occurred to me that the college is like many other things we take for granted. They have a place on the periphery of our consciousness, we take comfort in the knowledge they’re there, but we don’t give them much thought until we need them. As a young mother and housewife in the 1970s, making plans to return to college when my children all began school, I needed MECC. An article, or perhaps it was an advertisement, in the weekly Scott County newspaper, caught my attention. The new community college in Big Stone Gap was offering night classes, transportation to and from the college in something called “Learning-inTransit” buses, and even child care! While the adults attended class, the children would be entertained with movies and other activities. It was an opportunity for a sometimes frazzled wife and mother to get out of the house and ease her way back into college. I enrolled in a pottery class, and as it happened, my husband could get a woodworking class on the same evening. So the family rode the bus to MECC one night a week. My husband and I studied our crafts, and the children got their first exposure to college. While the pottery class didn’t inspire a change in career plans for me, I still have some of the lopsided dishes I made. It was 1977, the youngest son would be off to kindergarten in the fall, and I could return to college to finish a bachelor’s degree. I had taken some classes at ETSU before MECC opened in 1973. Now there was a college ow there was a in southwest Virginia where I could finish my general college in southwest education requirements and pay in-state tuition! I shared a ride with a friend, another wife and mother Virginia where I could with similar goals, and we spent two years at MECC, finish my general taking classes part time to complete the courses we education requirements needed to transfer. Although much of what I learned is and pay in-sate tuition! long forgotten, I will never forget Chris Allgyer’s music

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appreciation class. It was obvious he loved music, and he taught with such passion I could not help but catch his enthusiasm. To this day, I can still hear in my mind the Gregorian chants he taught us and pick out the oboe and other musical instruments in “Peter and the Wolf.” I remember the kind and patient staff in the admissions office who helped my friend and me to enroll. I also remember instructors, like Bill Carter and the art teacher who inspired me to want to learn more as she taught the history of art from the earliest cave drawings to Jackson Pollack and other modern artists. These instructors and others like them encouraged two insecure, nervous students and helped them to recognize their own potential and to envision the future they desired. My friend and I transferred to ETSU together. She completed a degree in computer science, and I completed a degree in history with teaching certification, in spite of the advice of good friends and mentors who reminded me there were not a lot of jobs in that teaching discipline. “Following one’s bliss” is wonderful if it also allows one to be gainfully employed! Little did I know that a chance encounter with Sue Ella Boatright-Wells at a social gathering of mutual friends would lead me, once again, to MECC. I needed a job, and Sue Ella told me about a grantfunded position in the financial aid office. The rest, as they say, is “history!” In August 1981, I joined the staff of the Office of Admissions, Records and Financial Aid and worked closely with folks like Gary Rose and Perry Carroll, Pat Parsons and Sue Ella, Peggy Beverly, Glenda Wilson, Cathy Beason, and others. Of course, part of the “closeness” came from the fact we were all crowded together into the maze of small rooms that still house those offices today! The college consisted only of Godwin and Holton Halls; even the president’s office was just a few doors down. It was convenient if Perry Carroll needed Dr. Victor’s signature, but having the president a few steps away meant we never knew when he would drop in for a visit. We joked that it probably kept us on our toes, even on quiet Friday afternoons when students had already left campus to begin their weekend activities! As the number of students grew, the campus grew as well. Under Dr. Ficker’s leadership, Dalton-Cantrell Hall was completed and Robb followed a few years later. The president’s staff moved into new offices in Dalton-Cantrell, and new classrooms were opened with the latest technology. The Allied Health Department moved into Robb Hall and John Cotham moved into a spacious new library on the second floor. Glenda Wilson became Dr. Ficker’s secretary and I was hired in 1984 as his administrative assistant. Other major changes were taking place, and one in particular continues to have a lifelong impact. In a series of training sessions held in the old Advisory Board room in Godwin Hall, we had our first experiences with something called a Macintosh computer It was astounding what we could do with this new machine! The little computer made such a difference for all of us in the way we carried out our duties, but Mary Lyons was the wizard in word processing and Neka Wilson became the “go to” expert in desktop publishing. 234


I left MECC during Virginia’s budget crisis in the early 1990s and began to work with high school students who were just beginning to think about college. As my friend and I had done more than 10 years earlier, they remembered and considered the community college in Big Stone Gap. For various reasons, they needed MECC: the college was affordable; financial and/or scholarships were available; and they either could not or did not want to leave home for a four-year college. For whatever reason, MECC was the college of choice, and many of the same caring staff and instructors I had known before were eager to help them get started on a college career. It was my privilege to return to MECC in 2000 to work as a counselor in the Office of Student Services. Some of the faces were new, but the tradition he told me what of service was the same . It is not a cliché: the residents of so many have southwest Virginia are fortunate to have MECC to turn to when they need and want to go to college. Just recently I talked to said before, “I just a current MECC student who, because of changes in her life, love MECC!” desperately needs MECC. She’s now a single mother, and she’s attending college to make a better life for herself and her family. She told me what so many have said before, “I just love MECC!” Everywhere I go in this region, I encounter former students, in hospitals and doctor’s offices, and in elementary or secondary school classrooms teaching young students. I meet former students who have completed advanced degrees, and they are doing such things as teaching in college classrooms or preparing for careers as lawyers, doctors, nurse anesthetists, and on and on.

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So, as I reflect on my experiences with MECC, it seems to me that the college is like an old friend, sometimes underappreciated and taken for granted. But it’s there when needed, welcoming, familiar, and comforting by its presence. – Carolyn Helms

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Entering a New Century MECC turned to the twenty-first century with few worries about the Y2-K Bug. With PhillipsTaylor Hall moving in more than 300 new Y2-K compliant computers, the college’s computer information system was ready for the worst and the best the new century could offer. “We’ve got 12 computer labs, and three have brand-new equipment,” CIS Installation and Maintenance Supervisor Tim Bartley said. . . . “Basically all the software has been installed, and now it’s a matter of tweaking and adjusting things so computers communicate with printers and so forth.” (Still M. , 2000) At least one MECC professor, however, feared an imminent virus from a different source. Roy Powers followed his passion for protecting archeological sites and fragile cave ecosystems by placing gates over cave entrances to prevent invaders from killing the inhabitants of those caves— the lovely and noble bats. Powers had been exploring bat caves for fifty-one years. Outbreaks of West Nile encephalitis virus in New York threatened to spread south into the mid-Atlantic areas if not curtailed. Powers wanted to protect bats and encouraged having as many famished bats around as possible to eat virus-carrying mosquitoes. Another MECC professor, Jay Blevins, created a distance learning class on the Internet for water plant personnel in Virginia to keep up with the latest advances or to earn an associate’s degree from the college in water/wastewater management. Not fearing the Y2-K Bug as much as bugs in drinking water, Blevins set up a class that received praise from around the state. His class was in response to a request from Virginia’s Department of Health for water/wastewater training. Indeed, the college moved right into the brave new era with more offerings of classes, art shows and exhibits, and a report from the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education recommending 73 goals for higher education standards. Among the recommendations were improvements in affordability, quality and accountability. Colleges implementing Institutional Performance Agreements (IPAs) over a six-year period would receive a multi-year funding commitment and more autonomy. MECC President Robert Sandel said his faculty and staff were very supportive of the commission’s recommendations. Being a high quality two-year college was MECC’s mission, he said. He added, however, that “. . . to fully implement the (IPAs) will require more funding. We have 1,900 (full-time equivalency students), but we’re only funded for about 1,700.” (Igo, Local College Officials Back Higher Education Commission Report, 2000) The Goodloe Center spawned a plethora of events on MECC’s campus. The Spoleto USA Chamber group presented a concert at the center in February. Barter Theater brought American Tall Tales to students on February 10 at 12:15 p.m. Accomplished pianist Lynn Mackey, a Julliard School graduate, gave two performances at the center on February 24. Vladimir Valjarevic performed Chopin during his piano concert at the Goodloe Center on March 30 at 7:30 p.m. The Appalachian Collaborative of English Educators held a kickoff meeting on April 1 from 8 a.m. until noon. Sharon Fisher facilitated the discussion of meeting the Standards of Learning between grade 236


levels. MECC’s 24th Annual John Fox Festival held its speaker appearances and contest winners awards in the Goodloe Center on April 6. Duo Firenze offered a historical performance on April 11 at 12:15. Jodie Ann McConnell of Nickelsville won the 2000 Miss MECC crown. She also won the Miss Congeniality award. Ms. Bonny Copenhaver joined MECC’s Foundation staff as Coordinator of Institutional Advancement during the spring of 2000. Ms. Copenhaver held a Bachelor of English Degree and a Master of English Degree from East Tennessee State University. She worked previously at Northeast State Technical Community College where she created the theater program and taught English and theater. Mrs. Jane Jones returned to MECC in her role as instructor of administrative support technology. Jones had been a 1985 graduate from MECC and also held a B. S. from Clinch Valley College and a M.S. from ETSU. When I first came to MECC as an instructor, I was surprised at all of the additional duties involved with the position. Student advising ith the changes from and committee responsibilities were just a couple traditional classroom of the mounting responsibilities. I thought my first courses to online courses, semester would be the hardest but little did I know it was probably the easiest! With the changes from I’ve had to keep on top of traditional classroom courses to online courses, I’ve the technology, which is had to keep on top of the technology, which is ever every changing. changing.

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Mountain Empire Community College has played an important role in my life and I will always be eternally grateful for the many opportunities that this institution has afforded me. – Jane Jones The Ford Foundation granted MECC $100,000 to continue the Rural Community College Initiative. The project began in 1997 with a grant from the Ford Foundation. Its efforts to create service learning programs for MECC’s students had been very successful. After a tenure as Dean of Academic and Student Services at MECC, Debbie Sydow was the overwhelming choice for the presidency of Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, New York. A native of Pound, Virginia, Sydow had served on the faculty and administration at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands before spending five years as MECC’s dean. During her five years at MECC, she earned the respect of her colleagues and was popular among students. Upon her appointment at Onondaga she said, “Throughout my career I have seen education change lives in wondrous ways. I take this seriously because I have seen how education can be a powerful, positive force in the lives of others.” (Igo, MECC Dean Achieves SUNY Presidential Position, 2000) Dr. Sandal appointed Sharon Fisher as interim dean, serving the 2000-2001 academic year. 237


More than 350 graduates heard renowned Appalachian poet and writer Rita Sims Quillen tell them to follow their dreams and strive to be the best at MECC’s commencement ceremonies on May 12. Quillen had received her Associate of Arts and Sciences Degree from the college in 1978 and had keen insight into the graduates’ positions in life. She spoke about her personal journey toward success. Among MECC’s graduates, William Doug Bowen was the college’s first student to pass the CISCO Certified Network Association (CCNA) certification exam. Bowen completed MECC’s four-semester program in May. In addition to MECC graduates, twelve candidates from ODU’s TELETECHNET program received bachelor and master degrees on MECC’s campus. MECC applied for its share of the $6 million federal tobacco settlement during the summer of 2000. Seven community colleges in Virginia’s western districts would split the $6 million in accordance with a decision reached by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission at its August meeting in South Hill. Yet another record enrollment of 4,334 students attended MECC classes during the 1999 – 2000 academic year. It was a 6.7 percent increase over 1998 – 99. Summer computer classes were full in Terri Lane’s sections. The college had begun computer networking and software courses the year before in its goal to gain approval for a new Associate in Applied Science Degree in information systems by fall semester. Record enrollments and student goals were boosted by a $10,000 donation from Bank of America, aimed to aid students from Scott and Wise Counties attending MECC. Bonny Copenhaver, newly appointed as MECC’s Foundation Coordinator, was proving a valuable employee as she accepted the check from bank vice-president Anita Robinson. Funds from the grant would provide students with $1,250 a year for service learning. As a part of the college’s continuing relationship with the University of Namibia in Africa funded under the Community College Rural Initiative Grant, several college representatives spent two weeks on UN’s northern campus during the summer. President Robert Sandel and Dean Debbie Sydow made the first trip to Namibia to begin the exchange of ideas and to speak at the Northern Campus’ graduation commencement.

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hen as he delivered the

Dr. Sandel’s suitcase got lost on the flight over and commencement speech he had to borrow a suit from one of the Africans. over there a fly flew in his Then as he delivered the commencement speech over there a fly flew in his mouth and he got choked. mouth and he got choked. Afterwards, He and Dr. Sydow went to an African hut for lunch with the chief of the tribe and the food was completely covered with flies – completely covered! And you know how fussy and particular he was! Debbie Sydow just dug in like it was the best thing she ever ate – but Bobby didn’t take a bite – not even one little bitty bite! Sometime after his return, Jane asked me whatever happened when Bobby went to 238


Africa – she said he never once spoke of the trip. Never once. – Bonnie Elosser. Bonnie Elosser, Director of Student Services, and Michael Hamilton, Student Government President, led the second group to Namibia later that summer. They toured Namibia’s campus, attended workshops, and spoke to students in UN’s classes. One of the reasons we were working with the University of Namibia was that, while the main campus in Windhoek was patterned after the British scholarly model, there was a satellite campus about eight hours to the north of Windhoek in a place called Oshakati. This campus was essentially out in the middle of nowhere (right on the border of Angola – we could see the barbed wire fence and guns aimed at Namibia) and was very much like a community college where the students were not as well prepared for college courses. They had no developmental studies program whatsoever and they were very interested in adding some developmental courses to prepare students to complete their work the first two years and then go on to finish at the main campus. I think we were able to provide some insight for this and I think the students were really in need of developmental work. One of the highlights of the trip for us was a visit to the largest wildlife preserve in the world (actually the size of the country of Wales) where we saw African wildlife in their natural habitat. It was absolutely stunning. While watching a herd of elephants come to a watering hole – we got a little too close in Dick Chamberlain’s Volkswagon Jetta and one elephant began to charge the vehicle. We have a video and you can hear someone tell Dick – “Dick, you better back up fast!” Then you can hear the little Jetta turn over several times and not start! e passed the Finally, we got it started and got the heck out of there. But, the animals were breathtaking as was the scenery all over the diamond mines and spent a country. We crossed the Namib desert that goes directly into the Atlantic Ocean. (In the Nama language, Namib means weekend close to vast.) We passed the diamond mines and spent a weekend close the world famous to the world famous Skeleton Coast. What a beautiful country! What lovely people. Skeleton Coast.

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The other interesting thing about the country is that the Africans have an interesting sense of time. As a matter of fact, time actually means nothing to them. Michael and I had a horrifying experience shortly after we arrived. Dick was ill in England and had to delay his return to Africa so he was not there to take care of us. We stayed in his home and, shortly after our arrival, we were shuttled off to Oshakati in a van that was driven about 120 miles an hour for about eight hours. Whew! It was scary. When we got up the next morning we were escorted to a huge hall located on the Oshakati campus. We had no idea what we were doing there since Dick still had not arrived and no one told us anything. It was a big, big meeting with folks from all over the country and we thought it had something to do with education. We were still very jet lagged and the country was so foreign! Well, we got some refreshments and sat down to look at the agenda. While the program was to begin at 9:00 am – 239


they announced that we were waiting for the chief and some other dignitaries and the program would be delayed. So we sat for a long time and Michael happened to glance at the agenda. All of a sudden his face turned ashen and he poked my arm and pointed to the agenda. It was unbelievable – it turned out we were listed on the program as the speakers for the morning session! No one had told us! Michael absolutely went to pieces. I thought he was going to collapse. I was feeling pretty shaky myself, but I told him not to worry – I would take care of it – all he would have to do was come to the stage with me and sit there. I frantically wrote some notes and did in fact deliver a keynote speech to over 400 people assembled in that big hall. Shortly thereafter, Dick arrived and surrounded us with his wonderful presence and all was well for the rest of the stay! I forgot to mention that I had plenty of time to construct my speech because the meeting was delayed until 11:00 a.m. whereupon they introduced the dignitaries and then the person introducing the program said, “Well, now that everyone is here, let’s take a break and have some tea.” It was well past noon when the meeting actually started! And, you can guess how late it ended. Yikes, time means nothing over there. – Bonnie Elosser In a return trip, five representatives from the University of Namibia visited MECC for ten days during October. Led by Dr. Erica Maas, the team planned to use information from its visit to adopt a similar orientation program to MECC’s program at UN, to structure its semester schedules after MECC’s, and to add a distance and continuing education program inspired by MECC’s program. Recipients of the 1999 – 2000 Employee of the Year awards went to Roger W. Spencer for classified staff, Regenia Massey for administrator, Smitty Baker for adjunct faculty, and Dr. Patricia Brown for faculty. Each candidate was noted for service which exceeds expectations in their respective duties. Brownie Polly, MECC’s College Board Chairman, won the 2000 William P. Kanto Memorial Award for his long-term support of education. Polly had been a member of the MECC Board since 1993 and was elected chairman in 1999. He was honored on November 9 during the 20th annual Forum on Education at UVa-Wise. Joining Polly at the awards ceremony were President Robert Sandel, UVa-Wise Provost George Culbertson, UVa-Wise Chancellor Jay Lemons, and Chancellor Emeritus Joseph Smiddy. Polly acknowledged the special meaning of the award, stating that he and William Kanto had been friends for a long time. MECC is a very special place in southwestern Virginia. The campus is beautiful with a view that is unparalleled anywhere in the Commonwealth; the faculty is outstanding with many having received national recognition for their exceptional work; and the students are uncommon men and women who are fiercely loyal to this area and determined to succeed. One of my best experiences has been watching MECC engage students, faculty, 240


staff and the community at large as together they generate solutions from within the area to improve the quality and sustainability of the social, environmental and economic life of the different communities in this region. They have taken satellite classes to different communities; they’ve experimented with “Teaching on wheels” with classes taught en-route from different far-reaches of the region; they strive to keep alive Appalachian traditions through music classes, the arts, crafts and the written word. Special events, such as the Home Craft Days Festival, which draws people from all over the world, shares our love and respect of the life and heritage of this area and its different educational processes. I have fond memories of working with some of the exceptional staff and faculty at MECC, such as Donna Stanley, Glenda Wilson and Dr. Bobby Sandel. Dr. Sandel was president of the college when I was serving as Chairman of the Board. We made several trips to higher education conferences all over the country, as well as to Richmond, sharing the good news of MECC and its accomplishments. Dr. Sandel was one of the most forward thinking administrators with whom I have ever worked and Dr. Terry Suarez, who followed him, has never “lost a beat” in carrying on that goal of excellence in education for knowledge-thirsty students of all ages sometimes covering three generations - all in attendance at the same time. As a retired dentist, I am proud of the Nursing program at MECC, and with the connection we have with Old Dominion University that affords our students the opportunity to attain higher level degrees without having to travel elsewhere. I am also very proud of the Phillips-Taylor building as Nell and French were members of my family. Both were dedicated teachers in Wise County, and were very proud of what MECC meant to this area and wanted to be a part of it. I was appointed to the Board in 1994 by the Wise County Board of Supervisors, and served for eight years. I was Vice-Chairman for 1998-2000, and Chairman of the Board for 2000 to 2002. I had previously served on the Board of Clinch Valley College (now UVA-Wise) for eight years following my term on the Board of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. That was a great experience. However, serving on the MECC Board was the most rewarding experience that I had ever had. As I saw the pride of accomplishment in students who might not have attained a college degree had MECC not been established, I knew how important the work would always be for each of us. Our students must never forget the contributions of this region to the greatness of America.

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ur students must never forget the contributions of this region to the greatness of America.

The people who settled southwestern Virginia brought special values to this area. They were hardworking, brave people who gave this country the beginnings of its populist democracy. They never shrank from duty in those early days, and neither will these descendants. MECC is here to stay and I am proud that I have been a part of that history. – Brownie Polly 241


2001 The college entered its thirtieth year quietly. There was the usual flourish of announcements of class offerings and activities on campus. Virginia Tobacco Settlement Funds helped more than 700 students cover costs for tuition and books. Two families were representative of people receiving funds. Freda Taylor of Nickelsville, her son Michael Strong, her son-in-law Brian Penley, and her nephew Patrick Johnson all qualified for financial aid from tobacco funds. Each family member was returning to college to gain employment skills. Five members of the Laster family of Lee County were eligible for tobacco fund support. Mary Ruth Laster, principal of Stickleyville Elementary School, her husband Eunice, their daughter-inlaw Susan Laster, youngest son Jason Laster, and Jason’s fiancée Amanda Huff enrolled in various programs at the college. MECC’s Alpha Delta Psi chapter of Phi Theta Kappa international honor society inducted new members on February 9. Faculty sponsor Jim Strength delivered the keynote speech titled “In the Midst of Water: Origin and Destiny of Life.” President Linda Robinson and reporter Amanda Clark announced new semester inductions of Deborah Dianne Adams, Wendy Michelle Addington, Rex Aaron Bailey, Tammy Marie Bledsoe, Mark Allen Boggs, and Georgia F. Brickley. Virginia’s community colleges faced a 3 percent reduction in funds for 2001 and another 6 percent for 2002 as Governor James Gilmore’s Executive Order 74 cut college budgets once again. President Robert Sandel confirmed to MECC’s Advisory Board that the college had to submit a plan for cutbacks on July 1. Sandel expressed concern about the first year and said the second year with a 6 percent cut would be very tough. The cuts amounted to $240,000 the first year and $480,000 during the second year. Sandel was hopeful the cuts would not affect capital projects such as the new parking lot above Phillips-Taylor Hall. Good news for students: Regardless of budget cuts, MECC would not increase tuition for the 2001 – 2002 academic year. Additionally, the Office of Financial Aid announced in April that an increase in PELL grant awards would result in reduced out-of-pocket costs for qualified students. Putting the new Goodloe Center to good use, the college hosted two concerts during the spring. Chorovaya Akademia, a male a cappella choir from Russia presented a choral music concert on March 20. Mac Walter and Barbara Martine performed a blues and jazz concert on April 27. The 24th annual John Fox Festival on April 12 featured speakers Robert R. Morgan and W. Todd Groce. Morgan had published four fiction books and nine volumes of poetry. He was Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University. His novel Gap Creek was a story of life in the Appalachian Region. Dr. Groce, who was born in Virginia and grew up in Tennessee and Mississippi, had been Executive Director of the Georgia Historical Society since 1995. He had recently published a book on the Civil War in East Tennessee. 242


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he MECC Foundation Gala Honored Governor A. Linwood Holton during its program on April 21. The MECC Foundation Gala Honored Governor A. Linwood Holton during its program on April 21. The college was joined by Norton Community Hospital in hosting the event. The gala began at 6 p.m. with a “New York, New York” theme, dinner at 7 p.m. and musical entertainment by The Has Beens.  Sykes Industries opened and announced it would hire its first 100 employees by April. Public Relations Director Conway Jensen said most of the early workers would fill positions in customer service, human relations, and other administrative positions. MECC assisted in training potential employees, offering classes in customer service, PC architecture, and operating systems in the college’s Workforce Development Center.

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resident Robert Sandel President Robert Sandel announced he had applied for the position of President of Virginia Western announced he had applied Community College located in Roanoke on April for the position of President of 11. He was scheduled for a two-day interview April Virginia Western Community 19 – 20. A week later, on April 26, Virginia Western announced that it had indeed chosen Sandel as its new College located in Roanoke on president. He set plans to resign his position as leader April 11. of MECC and begin his new duties at VWCC effective July 1. MECC Board Chairman Brownie Polly said Sandel would be “a hard act to follow. . . . He has done a fantastic job in Big Stone Gap, and we have increased students in the last few years at a time when our population wasn’t increasing that much at all.” (Still M. , MECC President Leaving to take Post in Roanoke, 2001) At the last MECC College Board meeting for President Sandel, Dr. Brownie Polly unveiled a painted portrait of Sandel to be placed on the wall of the Westmoreland Penn-Virginia Boardroom in Dalton-Cantrell Hall alongside portraits of previous MECC presidents. To preface the unveiling, Polly read the following acknowledgement:

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FOR THE PAST NINE AND 1/2 YEARS, UNDER THE SUPERB LEADERSHIP OF DR. BOBBY SANDEL, NEW HEIGHTS IN ACADEMICS, TECHNOLOGY, WORK FORCE DEVELOPMENT, AND MANY OTHER EDUCATIONAL ARENAS HAVE BEEN PIONEERED AND ATTAINED AT MOUNTAIN EMPIRE COMMUNITY COLLEGE. THE ENROLLMENT HAS SOARED BEYOND OUR WILDEST DREAMS, EVEN THOUGH WE HAVE LOST MEMBERS IN POPULATION IN OUR REGION. YES, THESE HAVE BEEN THE BEST OF TIMES. AND NOW, OUR GREAT LEADER IS LEAVING. THESE ARE THE WORST OF TIMES - AND SAD TIMES. BUT THE COLLEGE MUST CONTINUE THE HARD WORK AND SUCCESS THAT HAS OCCURRED UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF DR. SANDEL. HE HAS SET A HIGH STANDARD FOR ALL OF US TO FOLLOW. HE HAS BEEN AN OUTSTANDING LEADER AT MECC AND THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY AND I AM PROUD TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF HIS TEAM. WE ALL THANK YOU FOR YOUR DEDICATION AND THE HISTORIC ROLE YOU HAVE PLAYED IN THE SUCCESS OF THIS INSTITUTION. I MUST ADMIT THAT I HAVE NOT VIEWED WHAT I AM ABOUT TO UNVEIL FOR YOU AND ALL THE WORLD TO SEE ON THE PORTRAIT WALL OF DALTON-CANTRELL HALL. IN ORDER TO REALLY IMPROVE THE DECOR OF THE BOARD ROOM, I HAD SUGGESTED THAT THEY CONSIDER PLACING JANE’S PORTRAIT THERE INSTEAD. OH WELL - AT LEAST I TRIED. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I AM HONORED TO HAVE THE PRIVILEDGE OF UNVEILING THE PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT OF DR. ROBERT SANDEL - FIFTH PRESIDENT OF MOUNTAIN EMPIRE COMMUNITY COLLEGE. After three decades of service, MECC celebrated its graduation commencement by inviting former Governor and Big Stone Gap native A. Linwood Holton Jr. to address more than 350 graduates. “I had something to do with locating the college on this spot,” Holton said. “I’m proud to have had something to do with it, and I’m proud to have this as my hometown. . . . You certainly do leave a heritage that goes on and on,” Holton said to the grandparents attending the commencement. (Still M. , Holton Addresses Graduates at MECC, 2001) 

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In July, the college announced the appointment of Dr. Douglas Boyce as Interim President while the search for a new permanent president began. With only two months passing since Robert Sandel announced his departure and with VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois recently appointed to his position in Richmond, the search for a permanent president would likely extend until January 2002. Boyce had served as Dean of Instruction at Virginia Highlands Community College and planned to remain at his residence in Abingdon with his wife Grace during his tenure at MECC. MECC students made two international trips during the spring. Fran Doyle led an educational group on a tour co-sponsored by University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Professor Doyle and students Amanda Clark, Sarah Gilliam, Greg Hall, Kwana Leach and Jeannie McNew traveled to the Czech Republic and to Germany on a nine-day trip. Professor Chuks Ogbonnaya, along with students Shelby Hamilton and Doug Scott, traveled to Namibia as a continuing partnership with the University of Namibia under the RCCI grant. While in Namibia, Professor Ogbonnnaya and worked with students from Ogongo Agricultural College on soil analysis, nutrients, pest control, and hydroponics. MECC Professor Dr. Wendell Fowler spent the spring in the Netherlands as part of an international educational exchange program. While in the Netherlands, Fowler traded information on manufacturing technology, discovering there are many similarities in the two countries’ technologies.

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r. Conley F. Winebarger joined MECC on July 1 as the new Dean of Academic and Student Services.

Dr. Conley F. Winebarger joined MECC on July 1 as the new Dean of Academic and Student Services. Winebarger had

previously served as a department head at Pensacola Junior College in Pensacola, Florida. He held an Ed. D. and an Ed. S. from the University of West Florida. He had previously taught in the VCCS as Program Director and Associate Professor of Electricity at Southside Community College in Keysville. After six weeks at MECC, Winebarger said that his first impressions of the college were confirmed. “Mountain Empire has a wonderful, caring faculty and staff, a full range of both transfer and technical programs, excellent facilities, and a reputation of truly serving the community.” (MECC News Release, 2001) MECC’s AmeriCorps program flourished during 2001. Approximately 40 students applied for the 18 available slots in the program. The program provided service learning for students who were assigned to elementary schools in the area. Students served 900 hours of volunteer work of which 180 hours were spent in training. For their work, students received roughly $2,300. Ms. Penny Dockery was Director of AmeriCorps. Paul F. Gilley’s welding classes at MECC used state of the art equipment. Gilley’s experience 245


as an Educational Instruction Member of the American Welding Society (AWS) gave him inside knowledge of innovations and improvements in welding. He understood how to prepare students for the workforce. MECC held its 29th annual Home Craft Days on October 21 and 22, 2001. Once again the festival drew large crowds to enjoy the traditional mountain music and to roam among the crafts and cultural displays. Following that weekend, the Criminal Justice and Technology Clubs featured ghouls and goblins in its annual Haunted Forest beginning October 25 and running (literally) through October 31. As usual, it was a spooky and frightful experience. MECC had made the transition into the new century successfully, without crashing into cyberspace’s Eschaton and with the new Phillips-Taylor Hall as the showplace of the college’s larger, wider, more beautifully landscaped campus. Elements of the college evolved as faculty left for other positions or retired and new faculty arrived and as students continued he college to pursue their dreams through education. By the end of the first year budget was of the twenty-first century, MECC’s annual report revealed a 6.7 percent $16.7 million growth in enrollment with 1,452 full-time student headcount and 2,882 part-time students. Academic programs had expanded. Opportunities for with a total of $16.9 million in international education and travel included trips to Africa and tours of Spain and England. The college budget was $16.7 million with a total revenues. of $16.9 million in revenues. MECC’s Foundation raised $496,000 and distributed $82,955 in scholarships and work-study awards. Helen Sutherland of Pound contributed $240,000 of those funds.

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September 11, 2001 — Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001? Several people at MECC remember that morning very clearly:

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he replied that

I was teaching English 251 – World Literature I – in Godwin “they” were 220. A student arrived late to class. I asked why she was tardy. She replied that “they” were attacking the World Trade Center attacking the World in New York, and she could not stay for class. She explained Trade Center in that she had to remove her children from school and take New York. them home. I wondered why she would want to do that since Southwest Virginia was one of the least likely targets for attack, therefore one of the safest places to be. There was a TV playing in the hall outside my classroom door. We could see the twin towers and the smoke from the collisions. The hallway was crowded with students and was quiet with the exception of clear voice on the TV. – Pat Brown

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I had just finished my 8 o’clock class and had spent a few minutes in my office before walking out through the Arts and Sciences Suite. Angelia Reynolds was watching something on the screen of her desktop. She looked up as I passed her desk and said, “Someone has attacked those Twin Towers in New York. They’re crashing into them with airplanes.” The comment seemed surreal, and I thought at first that it might be some kind of mistake or a joke, just as I had thought the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963 was a sick joke when I first heard it. But as I walked toward the lobby of Godwin Hall, I saw a group of staff and students gathered before a TV. On the TV screen I saw the second jetliner hit the North Tower at 9:03 a.m. I was frozen and that moment was frozen in time. – Van Rose On 9/11, I was working to complete a task for the [UVa-Wise] Provost at home that morning before leaving to take Tina to Charlottesville for doctors’ appointments. On the way up, David (can’t remember his last name) from Namibia had heard about the tragedies that morning and called me on my cell just to check on me and others. -- Scott Bevins Al Qaeda terrorists crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center. A third airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and a fourth jet airliner plummeted into a field in rural Pennsylvania after several passengers overwhelmed the hijackers and commandeered the plane. That series of coordinated suicide attacks by al Qaeda terrorists changed our view of the world for years, and had a profound effect on MECC, its administration, faculty, staff and students. For months thereafter class discussions often focused on how the U. S. should respond to terrorism and on how we should prepare to prevent such future attacks. The need to learn and to evaluate the events of 9/11 became part of class assignments. It was not until much later that the college and its people gradually returned to personal experiences again, although the horror of terrorists’ attacks lingered. The college developed a plan for future threats. First, we set up isolation areas. We ordered boxes of duct tape, along with enough bottled water to last everybody on campus for two days. The Buildings and Grounds crew was instructed to take responsibilities for individual floors. Dennis Warner was to kick off the breakers to all air circulation into buildings. Other crew workers were to tape off ceiling vents and doors in case of threats from poisonous gases or biological materials. We had a flashlight and a box of medical emergency materials placed on every floor. Phillips-Taylor’s box is in the area near PT-115 and upstairs near the Faculty Lounge. Godwin Hall has materials next to the elevator. People in Holton go to Godwin. D-C is at the mechanical room. In Robb we stationed the materials in the closet of the nursing room. – Gary Nickles Daily events consumed time and thought at MECC as people moved on to their routines. The 30th Home Craft Days Festival on October 20 – 21 brought music, tradition, fun, and laughter back to campus. It was a good time to forget recent atrocities and to remember long-term verities and sustaining passions. As Sue Ella Boatwright, who had directed the festival through the years, said, 247


Y

ou won’t find hamburgers or hot dogs at Home Craft Days.

“You won’t find hamburgers or hot dogs at Home Craft Days. You won’t find items made out of plastic or crafts too heavy on artificial material.” You always found genuine family crafts, traditional mountain and gospel music, and good country cooking.

Ms. Boatwright and her colleagues Susan Kennedy and Charlotte Green had worked diligently to assure the years of success the festival had enjoyed, and their conscientious attention to bringing in top performers paid off again. Long-term favorites Janette Carter, her son Dale Jett, and friends performed on Friday night, October 20. Other musicians who had become annual favorites were Tom Bledsoe and Rich Kirby. George Reynolds and, of course, the famed singer/musician John McCutcheon returned to the festival year after year. Jonathan Romeo, who had come to MECC during the 90s as artist in residence and who later became Director of Crooked Road, said of Home Craft Days, “There is a wide respect for the music programs performed at Home Craft Days. You are doing more for music than most any other program.” The college received a framed collection of photos of Nell Phillips and French Taylor from the East Stone Gap School Memorial to commemorate the sisters’ large financial gift. Daughters of George Taylor, Vice-President of Virginia Coal and Iron, which later became Penn Virginia, the two had been teachers, French at East Stone Elementary and Nell at Big Stone Gap High School. The framed photographs hang on the wall at the upstairs entrance of Phillips-Taylor Hall in honor of the benefactors. Nancy Smith from the Slemp Foundation Board came to campus on November 20 to present the second $500,000 check of a $1 million donation from the Slemp Foundation. The Slemp Foundation had been a leading supporter of MECC. Previous gifts had resulted in MECC naming its entrance to the Wampler Library the Slemp Gallery, where artistic works are displayed. MECC Interim President Dr. Doug Boyce accepted the gift and noted that, with state resources scarce, the college needed private resources to supplement its budget. After years of pondering how to improve the entrance to MECC while helping to prevent auto accidents, the Virginia Department of Transportation began work to improve the view of drivers approaching, entering, and leaving the campus. VDOT crews cut away trees and removed a bank to relocate and widen the turn lane at the entrance. The project, costing $103,665, shifted the previous 350-foot turn lane twelve feet to the right and extended it to more than 750 feet. VDOT had previously installed flashing warning signs along the southbound and northbound lanes of U.S. 23 near the campus entrance. The dominant news at MECC during the fall was its search for a new president. The VCCS began accepting applications in July. The system’s board scheduled October 9 as its date to have completed screening resumes and to interview an initial list of candidates. MECC’s Board would then meet with Chancellor DuBois and begin interviews of a group of finalists. MECC Planning Director Sharon Fisher announced on September 19 that 35 candidates had been screened. The college had formed four committees to join the local Board in interviewing the finalists during November 5 – 9. 248


On October 24, the announcement came that the State Board for Community Colleges had unanimously adopted the recommended candidates presented by Chancellor DuBois during a conference call. The three candidates were: Dr. Robert E. Carlson, Executive Director of the University of New Mexico campus at Gallup, New Mexico; Dr. F. E. “Skip” Gillum, Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming; and Dr. Terrance E. Suarez, Dean of Instruction and Student Services at Wytheville Community College.

T

he three candidates were: Dr. Robert E. Carlson, Executive Director of the University of New Mexico campus at Gallup, New Mexico; Dr. F. E. “Skip” Gillum, Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming; and Dr. Terrance E. Suarez, Dean of Instruction.

By November 1, Dr. Gillum withdrew his name from consideration to pursue career opportunities in his home state of Wyoming. Dr. Terrance Suarez visited MECC’s campus on Wednesday, November 7, and met with the Board and members of committees from faculty, administrators, staff, and students. During the interview process, he answered questions about his background, management, and leadership styles. The following day, November 8, Robert E. Carlson visited and met with groups to interview and respond to questions. By November 13, rumors were flying that a decision had been made; however, “Mum” was the word from MECC Board Chairman Bob Varner. Varner explained that careful consideration had been made on the two candidates but the final decision would come from the VCCS Chancellor. “It was a difficult choice. I guess basically it was one had vast experience and was recognized nationally in various categories.” Chancellor DuBois added, “The college board indicated to me they have two candidates – both of whom can do the job.” (Brickett, 2001) A follow-up article in The Coalfield Progress on November 14 covered Terrance Suarez and some of his comments during his visit to MECC. On his Spanish last name, Suarez said his cultural background colored his approach to diversity. “I think one of the things that is critically important to all of us is to recognize the opportunities that diverse cultures and diverse people provide for us.” (Brickett, Suarez Impressed by MECC; College Doing Things Right, 2001) He described his leadership style as “collegial” and his decision-making process as for the college, within policy, and never in a void. He said he sought input from people around him who would be affected by decisions.

“T

erry Suarez will bring a wealth of to Mountain Empire Community College, benefitting not only Mountain Empire but the entire system as well.”

The decision on MECC’s new president came soon thereafter—on November 15. “I’m delighted to be making this appointment today,” Chancellor Glenn DuBois said. “Terry Suarez will bring a wealth of to Mountain Empire Community College, benefiting not only Mountain Empire but the entire system as well.” (Gatley, 2001) President Suarez had commented on MECC’s excellent reputation and on the challenges the institution faced with budget restraints. He said he wished not to shift the burden 249


onto students with fee increases. “They pay enough for tuition and books. In the long term, you have to be involved in the community. The sounder the community, the more resources you will have.” (Gatley, 2001) Suarez’s tenure at MECC was set to begin on January 3, 2002. He visited MECC on Christmas Eve to formally announce the previously awarded $1 million gift from the Slemp Foundation. At the time, he was looking for housing and becoming familiar with the area. He commented that he wanted to be very active in the community. The best thing about my MECC experience was being a part of very positive, forward thinking group of people dedicated to perpetual improvement. The total team effort by the board, administration, faculty, staff, students, and community was impressive and I believe successful in affecting positive outcomes and growth. Well, there are many fond memories I have of MECC. I suspect that the moment Dr. Suarez allowed me to present the diploma to my son upon his graduation will be a precious memory forever. The most unforgettable memories are I certainly met a lot of folks with outstanding character. But, I suppose the most unforgettable experience involved the selection process for the new president when Dr. Sandel left. That particular process provided me a better education than I received during my extensive time in school. Major changes I experienced would be Phillips-Taylor Hall and all other construction projects over the past 10+ years. The serious and successful expansion of programs, including cooperation with local school divisions with regard to dual enrollment. 250


My favorite story is simply that I felt very positive about each interaction I had upon arriving at the college and felt very positive each time upon leaving the college except for the time I left the board. For me, the total MECC experience was a positive and rewarding one. I am unable to recall a negative moment; and if I could I wouldn’t reveal it. – Damon Rasnick

F

or me, the total MECC experience was a positive and rewarding one. I am unable to recall a negative moment; and if I could I wouldn’t reveal it.

In good hands of new leadership and skilled faculty and staff, the college poised upon the first thirty years of growth, experience, and dedication, and rose with passion, courage, and vision into its fourth decade. Many people came together during those first three decades to build a community of learning. To include all those people by name and act is impossible. Most important were the thousands of students who sought better lives through learning. Joined by MECC’s employees from near and far who were native to the community or who discovered “home” here, they faced the challenges of budget shortfalls and life-changing venues and experiences. They began with loose boards as walkways and have built a sprawling campus. They worked their days and dreamed their nights; they paid their dues; they met each struggle with determination and a will to succeed, often against enormous odds. Truly, they can say with pride, “We built this college on community and human values.”

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Epilogue Indeed, reports of community and human values at Mountain Empire Community college have reached beyond Virginia’s horizons. Over the years innovations at the college received recognition and accolades from influential leaders across the nation. Whether educators, students, politicians, or even philanthropists, many prominent leaders have acknowledged MECC’s pioneering accomplishments. President Barack Obama touched on the opportunities provided by community colleges through grants during his July 14, 2009, speech at Macomb Community College in Warpen, Michigan. The challenge grants could help spread approaches that community colleges in the Achieving the Dream network have tested. He emphasized that community colleges had expanded enrollment, giving more students opportunities through education, but that there was a need to make sure that students got certificates and degrees required in a competitive workforce. Obama went on to say that grants such as the Achieving the Dream Grant, currently supporting programs at MECC, have helped community colleges try new approaches. (Stacey, 2009) The Obama administration pushed states to adopt tougher standards, and governors and education leaders worked together to propose a uniform set of common standards. A first draft was released in March, and a final proposal could come this summer. And what college has been a leader in assuring that students who arrive unprepared for the rigor of academics have the support necessary to succeed? Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Va., for instance, found that students with borderline placement scores needed a quick brush-up on math rather than intensive remediation. It placed them in accelerated remedial courses and they passed at a rate of 60 percent, compared with 27 percent in traditional remedial classes. (Stacy, 2009) At the recent annual American Association of Community Colleges Conference, Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called improving or reducing remediation the best way to improve completion rates at community colleges, which hover at around 25 percent. “Right away, your dreams of going to college are deferred, because technically you’re not in college,” she said. “If you start in a remedial class, the odds are that you will never finish a creditbearing course in that subject.” She pointed to positive models: El Paso Community College, which gives prospective students placement tests while still in high school, and Mountain Empire Community College in Virginia, where there are new lesson plans and textbooks to move students through remedial education faster. (Press, 2010)

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These comments by President Obama in 2009 and Melinda Gates in 2010 reflect the experiences of many students who pass through the doors of Mountain Empire Community College. Their testimonies document the college’s history of cutting-edge performance. Perhaps Maggie Buckles Shortt described it best when she wrote her experiences some 28 years after she was a student at MECC, recalling moments of learning she still uses today. I have used what I learned from them ever since. Such a simple thing, but I use it every day. Gary actually taught me how to use the number pad on a calculator. Chris was the best euchre player from the staff and directed the choir. Bonnie had us write an essay on giving directions, with the instruction to use something we do in everyday life. I chose as my subject, ‘How to Make a Bed.’ I got an A and Bonnie, much to my embarrassment, actually read my essay in class. Bonnie said she would start that day to make a bed my way. To this day, I think of this and of her every time I make a bed and wonder if she really does make her bed like I was taught. – Maggie Buckles Shortt The legacy now passes on to future generations.

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Memorial: Martha Turnage

Martha Turnage in 1972, working with George Vaughan, James Carter, and Charles Giles Martha Turnage was one of the first three employees hired at Mountain Empire, in 1971, before the college opened in 1972. She was MECC’s first Dean of Students and Community Services, and was responsible for recruiting more than 600 students for MECC’s opening quarter. During her tenure at the college, Martha was a powerful leader in bringing innovation to college programs and an influential voice for student access to higher education. Working with President George Vaughan and Academic Dean James Carter, she pioneered several programs and activities, including Home Craft Days, that continue at the college today. Here is an excerpt of Ms. Turnage’s reflections on the opening of the college: When I came to Mountain Empire Community College (MECC), it was a hole in the ground with a billboard announcing the opening of the college the next fall. I reported to work at MECC on November 1, 1971, as dean of student and community development at a beginning salary of $15,000. The offices were in a little green building in downtown Big Stone Gap. Dr. Vaughan and I threw away the book when we started the college. In the first place, here I was dean of students and had never had a counseling course in my 254


life. Not only that, I didn’t have the faintest idea how to set up a registration system. And student financial aid was like a foreign language. Turnage established The Martha A. Turnage Scholarship Fund on November 4, 1996, to honor MECC’s 24 years of service to the community. The scholarship assists widowed women age 40 and over who need to return to school to gain employment. It is an endowed scholarship. She wrote: “This is my way of saying ‘Thank you’ for the opportunities community colleges provided me.” Turnage later assisted in establishing J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond. She retired to Annapolis, Maryland, where she remained active for several years. She later moved to Williamsburg, Virginia. Ms. Turnage passed away on January 5, 2010. She has contributed much to MECC and is remembered as a founding member of MECC’s family.

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Mountain Empire Community College: An Emerging Concept

By: George B. Vaughan, President Address to the Faculty September 11, 1972

Those of us who have been working for several months to make the people of the area aware of the potential of Mountain Empire Community College have promised many things. Many of these promises were made in your name and were made on assumption that we are bringing together a group of people who are ready to commit themselves to developing a comprehensive institution of higher education in the extreme southwestern portion of Virginia. The promises were made not as offering a panacea for the area’s problems, but as a part of an emerging concept of broadening the base of educational opportunities for the people of the area. This step forward in the democratization of higher education is made possible because MECC is coming into existence. But what are we emerging from and what can we expect to become? As a part of a statewide system of community colleges we are not a new college in the sense that we have no established precedents. We will do a number of things quite similarly to the way they are done in the rest of the system. Therefore, we are in the truest sense only in the newest entity in a broad network of community colleges. Yet in another sense of the word we are extremely new. We have new buildings, new students, a new faculty, and new ideas. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that each one of us has an opportunity to create a new dimension in learning for students, a new departure for our own professional careers, and a chance to provide the entire area with additional avenues for exploring its own values, talents, assets, and liabilities. We can safely say that we are emerging from certain concepts that are a part of the community college system in Virginia toward finding our own place in the state system, in the area, and in the day-to-day activities that are so much a part of the life of anyone who is associated with a community college. As we emerge, what commitments can and should we make? I will offer some suggestions. Some you may accept as being valid; others you may reject; but, hopefully, you will give some thought to each of them. First, I believe we have a commitment to our community. I use the word community to include our total service area and all of our students and non-students who are affected by the fact that we are in existence. Inherent in this commitment is the belief that we cannot set ourselves apart from the community. We cannot afford the luxury of being “a community of scholars looking down from some ivy-covered Mt. Olympus.” We must be “of the community.” The “community of scholars” concept is rapidly being challenged in many of our liberal arts colleges and state universities. The integration of the college and community is an area of higher education in which we cannot afford 256


to be followers—we must be the leaders. To challenge the community of scholars concept is not to challenge the need for scholarly research. Without research, a discipline becomes stagnant. But I am suggesting that I see the “tie that binds” in the community college as being interaction with our students and community and not preoccupation with research. Secondly, I see us as a teaching institution. Let me point out that this is one of the bits of propaganda we in the community colleges of America loudly proclaim as a part of our claim to fame. But there is little research to document that community colleges actually do a better job of teaching than their four-year counterparts. We say we do not research because we are a “teaching institution.” I am pleased that we do not have a publish or perish policy; but the fact that we define ourselves as a teaching institution must be the reason for not doing research and not the excuse. But back to my vision of MECC as a teaching institution. I would maintain that we must do a much better job of teaching than our four-year counterparts. Why? First, we are teaching a wider range of students and subjects. Our program of developmental education is critical to our success; yet, developmental education is no longer offered in most fouryear institutions. Our technical programs demand measurable performance upon graduation. This is often not the case when we receive a bachelors degree in English, history, or even the more scientific subject such as mathematics. Our transfer students must perform at a higher level even before transferring to a four-year institution because they are not allowed the luxury of making the mistakes of the entering freshman at the four-year college. One example of this is that almost no four-year colleges accept “D’s” from transfer students yet readily accept them in their own student’s programs. Finally, we are dealing with a number of students who would not have been admitted to the more traditional college. Thus we must work harder to teach what is currently being referred to as the “new student.” To say that we have a commitment to the student is to state the obvious. Yet if we are to fulfill the commitment, we must understand our students in the large content of their past, present and future goals. How are they different from their urban counterpart? In what ways are they the same? What does it signify that they have grown up in the area served by the college? Some of these answers will be provided later today, but I would maintain that if we are truly to fulfill the commitment to our students, we must realize that our academic backgrounds tend to cover a broader range on the “academic preparedness scale” than is found at the more traditional institutions. Moreover, teaching adult students will be a new experience for many of you. And we must be constantly aware of the impact of our geographic location on us as we emerge to become a community college that is sensitive to the needs of the area. To talk about our commitment to students is, of course, to talk about our very existence. However, I would like to make one more point as to how we might aid our students in helping them to prepare for their future. We need to create sensitivity in our students which will allow them to respond to their environment. This, to me, means that we cannot offer the students simple answers to complex problems. You can offer some very good theories on how a town should be operated. The students will probably applaud your efforts. I, too, would agree with your theories. Yet the student who lives in a town with an inadequate tax structure, a dearth of leadership, and a great deal of apathy might indeed find your theories hollow. But in what I will refer to as the “sensitizing process,” you must 257


make the student aware of the fact that governments can be improved if others are shown the need for the improvements and given some suggestions as to how they may be accomplished. To put it in simple language and to plagiarize from one of my professional colleagues, we must teach the students “to see the trash alongside the road.” I believe that once the students “see the trash” they will begin to see solutions and through the “sensitizing process” will react and help bring about change. A fourth commitment and one I hesitate to mention because it is so difficult to define is a commitment to being accountable for our actions. Accountability is an “in” word that is probably on its way out, yet I do view it as a viable concept. In fact, I do not find the concept of accountability as being new, but I do feel that we are using some new approaches to being accountable. An obvious question is accountable for what? Another question is accountable to whom? I shall not attempt to answer these questions at this time, but only wish to suggest that the day is long past when the classroom teacher can “dispense knowledge” without any concern for what students, parents, administrators or their professional colleagues think. I will add that I believe we have made a major breakthrough in being accountable for student learning by beginning to establish measurable objectives for our courses. By telling the students that we expect them to learn, we are holding ourselves accountable for teaching these things. Our objectives are really a means of communication whereby we and the students know what is expected in a course. The accountability aspect comes into play when we determine to what degree the objectives have been accomplished for student and teacher. Dr. Dana B Hamel, Chancellor of the VCCS, has made it clear that the administration of the college is to be held accountable for what happens of fails to happen at the college. If good instruction does not take place, the Dean of Instruction is accountable for this failure. If the students are not adequately served, the Dean of Student and Community Services is held accountable. If the “books don’t balance,” our business manager is accountable. And if any or all of these things happen, the president of the college is held accountable. Accountability, then, in my view is still a somewhat nebulous concept but one that we must continue to examine because it has merit in that it makes us more aware of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and forces us to make a value judgment as to whether we have accomplished what we set out to accomplish. Another commitment I feel the college must make is to involve the total college community in determining the goals and objectives of the college. This is going to be extremely difficult. But there are avenues already established whereby each member of the college community can voice his or her concerns. The College Council is one attempt at this. The Administrative Council is another. But if suggestions are not shared with the people who sit on these councils, then the representative system will not function. As I discussed with each of you earlier, I do not believe a complex institution can function in a one-man-one-vote situation. Chaos must result if a vote is taken on every decision made at the college. I believe, however, that we must have a one-man-onevoice situation whereby your views are heard. Hopefully a “democratic ethic” will prevail and interaction will result in positive action which considers the needs of each member of the college community. Again, let me say to achieve this will be very difficult and must of necessity be an evolutionary process. In my opinion, we must commit ourselves as a college to being aware of current trends in higher 258


education. For example, we must realize that our student services, to reach its full potential, must integrate itself with all students (part-time as well as full-time), the total teaching faculty, the learning resources personnel, and the community at large, I believe our career counseling concept is a step in the right direction in this regard. In keeping current, we must have an awareness of what Commissioner Marland of the USOE means when he refers to career education. Is he simply putting old wine in new jugs, or is there some validity to his concept that career education should begin early and extend throughout life? I personally believe that while what he is saying is not entirely new, he has done a better job of articulating the concept than has been done before. Moreover, he has committed his office and thus a portion of the federal dollar to the concept of career education. We must more fully understand what our role is to be in the total picture of career education. Finally, we must commit ourselves to a concept of excellence. In 1961 John W. Gardner raised the question, “Can we be equal and excellent too?” Gardner was concerned with the concept of seeking excellence in all phases of society. The comprehensive community college, as I have suggested before, is a step toward providing equal educational opportunities for our area. We have, through our open door policy, acknowledged that we endorse the idea of equality. If we are accountable for our actions and if we establish sound objectives and goals, then we have accepted the fact that we can be excellent. Thus we are hopefully ready to embark on a venture that will lead MECC toward excellence while at the same time providing equal educational opportunities to more and more people. But it is not that simple. The community colleges in America have their critics. For example, David Riesman and Christopher Jencks in The Academic Revolution suggest that the community colleges are serving as “safety valves” for the public four-year colleges by taking ill-prepared students and thus keeping the pressure off the public four-year college and university to take the academically weaker student. As recently as yesterday, I read an article in which a well known person in the field of higher education entitled his article about the community college, “The Coming Slums of Higher Education.” (Thomas B. Corcoran, “The Coming Slums of Higher education,” Change, the Magazine of Higher Learning, September, 1972, pp. 30-35) The thesis of the article is that the community colleges need to redefine their own mission if they are to achieve excellence and avoid becoming the slums of the higher education hierarchy. But what can we do? K. Patricia Cross in her excellent discussion of the “new student” carries Gardner’s question a step further. She asks, “Can we be different and excellent too?” (K. Patricia Cross, Beyond the Open Door, Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers, Washington, D.C., 1972, P. 160.) I could maintain that we can indeed be equal, excellent, and different, and that instead of becoming the slums of higher education we can fulfill a unique but necessary role; and that further MECC can be an example of what education can and should mean to the individual, to the community, to the region, and that it can provide an avenue whereby we can reach our own potential as teachers, administrators, and people. Thank you. 259


Foundation Board Members 1982 - 2001 Name Addington, James H. Aker, Bonnie Allen, Ben E. Allen, Charlie Armentrout, Albert Armsey, Betty Armsey, Harold E. Baker, Donald B. Baker, William Barnette, E. Wendell Bevins, Gary Bishop, Paul Bledsoe, S. Gilmer Boclair, Sandra Bowen, Jay Brown, Louise Brown, Patricia Buchanan, Paul Buckles, Jamie B. Burchett, Gary J. Burkett, Linda Kilgore, Executive Director Cantrell, Patti W. Childress, Harry Clements, Bill Collier, Phyllis Cotham, John Culbertson, Dan DePonte, Kathleen A. Dickenson, Ron Dotson, Fred Ellis, H. B. “Sonny” Jr. Elmore, Yvonne Fannon, Kenny Ficker, Victor B., MECC President Frazier, Billy W. Fugate, Charles D. Fuller, Joe H. Gay, Robert

Term of Office 1991 - 1997 1985 - 1988 1996 1987 - 1990 1985 - 1986 1990 - 1999 1982 - 1989 1997 - 2006 1983 - 1985 1996 - 2005 1982 - 1985 1997 - 2002 1984 - 1985 1991 - 1994 1982 - 1984 1982 - 1989 1997 - 2002 2001 - 2004 1989 - 2003 1998 1982 -1986, 1988 - 1989 1993 1988 - 1991 1982 - 1988 1986 - 1990 1984 - 1989 1982 - 1986 1992 1987 - 1994 1982 - 1986 1982 - 1986 1988 - 1991 1984 - 1988 1982 - 1987 1984 - 1986 1991 - 1994 1991 - 1997 1982 - 1985

Name Graham (Noblin), Sue Gregory, Allen Gregory, Ann Y. Grigsby, Jean Hill Hall, Karen Hancock, Hope Q. Hayden, Hershiel Helms, Fred Horne, Douglas N. Hunnicutt, George E. Jr. Isaac, Robert Jessee, Sandra Kennedy, N. Brent III Kennedy, Phyllis Kindle, Deborah Knight, Carl Lambert, W. C. Lee, George A. Lester, Janet Litton, Frank Sr. Litton, John W. Lynch, Billie Mason, Benny Matthews, Vincent III Mays, Sue B. McCann, Gary D. Meador, Virginia Miller, Patricia Miner, Ralph B. Minor, Danny J. Miranda, Elsa S. Montgomery, Ronnie Morris, Charles Sr. Mustard, Roger Oatts, Lewis O’Dell Rosanna O’Neill, Mike Osterwise, Allen Parkey, Robert Parks, Robert R.

260

Term of Office 1998 - 2001 1984 - 1989 1994 - 2009 1998 - 2001 1997 1993 - 1996 1982 - 1984 1987 - 1990 1984 - 1984 1997 1982 - 1991 1985 - 1989 1989 - 1992 1986 - 1990 2000 - 2006 1982 - 1984 1984 - 1985 1990 - 1992 1990 - 1993 1996 - 1998 1998 - 2001 1982 - 1984 1988 - 1991 1994 - 1995 1996 - 2008 1998 1982 - 1991 1989 - 1993 1988 - 1991, 1994 - 1997 1992 - 1995 1995 - 2007 1982 - 1989 1982 - 1986 2001 - 2006 1982 - 1984 1983 - 1984 2001 - 2002 1995 - 1996 1986 - 1987 1998 - 2001


Name Parsons, Pat Perkins, Rhonda Miller Potter, Jerry Prewitt, Ron Price, Kenneth Price, Spencer Puyear, Donald, Interim MECC President Quesenberry, Marcia K., Executive Director Quillen, Howard Quillen, Debbie Quillen, Michael Rhoton, Martha J. Richardson, Cheryl Riggs, Anne I. Robinette, Jeff Robinson, James W. Rosenbalm, Sue Rowlett, Steve Sadler, Everett A. Sandel, Robert H., MECC President Scott, Zane Sergent, Ben H. III Sergent, Birg E. Settle, Jr. Richard L. Shelton, James N.

Term of Office 1997 - 2000 1985 - 1991 1987 - 1990 1997 - 2001 1996 - 1999 1985 - 1986 1987 - 1988, 1991 - 1992 1986 - 1992 1982 - 1984 1982 - 1988 1990 - 1992 1991 - 1997 1991 2000 - 2006 2001 - 2004 1985 - 1994 1982 - 1984, 2002 1985 - 1988 1982 - 1997 1992 - 2001 1990 - 2000 1989 - 1992 1992 - 1998 1995 1995 - 1998

Name Shelton, R. C. ‘Snook’ Slaughter, Sandy Smith, Kenneth M. Smith, Ruth Mercedes, MECC President Spangler, Henry Stanley, Donna G., Executive Director Strouth, Evelyn Sturgill, Imogene Sutherland, Lessie G. Sykes, Bonsall Sykes, James L. Teasley, Glenn Thomas, Mike Thompson, Jan Turner, Larkin Varson, W. Paul Viers, Roger Wallen, R. L. Ward, Charles Watson, Don Wharton, Melissa Whiten, Jim Williams, Carol Williams, Robert C. Witt, Floyd W. Jr. Witt, W. C. Jr. ‘Buzzy’ Woods, Barbara

This list was developed from available data. 261

Term of Office 1991 - 2000 2001 1999 - 2001 1988 - 1991 1982 - 1984 1993 1996 - 1999 1982 - 1988 1992 - 1997 1984 - 1985 2001 - 2004 1985 - 1989 1992 - 1998 1995 - 1998 1994 - 2003 2001 1984 - 1986 1991 - 1994 1994 - 1997 1984 - 1986 2001 1989 - 1992 1987 - 1988 1984 - 1986 1985 - 1989 1990 - 1996 1987 - 1990


Local Board Members 1970 - 2001 Representing: City of Norton Member Term of Office Armsey, Harold E. 1985 - 1996 Clements, William T. 1970 - 1980 Harris, Amelia 1996 - 2004 Kanto, William P. 1980 - 1985 Representing: Dickenson County Member Term of Office Cummins, Ralph E. 1970 - 1973 Dotson, David 1970 Farmer, Robert (John) 1974 1994 - 1998 Mullins, Jimmy Neel, Thomas 1975 Rasnick, Damon 1998 - 2003 Spangler, Henry 1981 - 1989 Stickley, Fred 1977 - 1981 Sutherland, Benjamin 1973 Representing: Lee County Member Belcher, Ms. Stacy Brooks, Charlotte Chadwell, Eleanor Davis, Grace Fugate, Jean Fugate, Judge W. C. Gibson, Nancy Grabeel, Don Grace, Carol Grace, Charles Graham, Dr. Claude Horton, Bob Johnston, Earl Marcum, Chester McNiel, Bob Montgomery, H. Ronnie Montgomery, Sandra Moore, Anita O’Dell, John Phillip O’Dell, Rosanna Rasnic, Margaret M.

Term of Office 1998 - 1999 1998 - 2006 1994 - 1998 1970 - 1980 1978 - 1982, 1986 - 1998 1970 - 1978 1982 - 1986 1978 - 1979 1992 - 2000 1986 - 1992 1970 - 1974 1994 - 1998 1982 - 1990 1984 - 1985 1999 - 2002 1982 - 1986 1986 - 1993 1974 - 1978 1983 2000 - 2008

Robinette, Carson Rosenbalm, Kyle Rosenbalm, Sue Slemp, C. B. Slemp, Shirley Strickland, Robert Sumpter, E. C. Vandeventer, Ada

1978 - 1982 1979 1980 - 1982 1974 - 1978 1980 - 1984 1970 - 1974 1990 - 1998 1998 - 2006

Representing: Scott County Member Baker, Greg Bledsoe, S. G. Bowen, Jay E. Burkett, Linda H. (Kilgore) Cleek, Dr. Jo B. Dishner, O. Gene Flanary, Joanne J. Gay, Robert F. Hayfield, George T. Haynes, Thomas Helms, E. D. Lynch, Ms. Billie E. Mays, Sue B. McCarty, Lisa W. Miller, Jerry Mullins, Thomas E. Neeley, Sam H. Jr. Parks, Robert R. Profitt, Roger Quillen, Dr. Howard E. Quillen, Mike Scott, Zane Sturgill, Virginia Ann Thomas, Deborah Weatherly, Joe C.

Term of Office 1989 - 1993, 1995 - 1999 1970 - 1981 1981 - 1985 1988 - 1989 1998 - 2002 1970 - 1977 1986 - 1989 1981 - 1984 1997 - 2001 2001 - 2009 1970 - 1980 1978 - 1988 1992 - 2000, 2002 - 2008 2000 - 2008 1970 - 1978 2000 - 2004 1985 - 1988 1988 - 1997 1999 - 2000 1978 - 1986 1980 - 1981 1989 - 1992 1988 - 1998 1984 - 1988 1989 - 1996

262


Representing: Wise County Member Baker, William C. Barker, M. B. Bevins, Gary Brooks, Eugene Cantrell, J. D. Carnes, Rexall Dorton, C. Pete Dotson, B. J. Dowell, Dolly Gilbert, Carol Sue Hamilton, Jerry Hayden, Hershiel Hutchinson, Edward Jackson, Larry Kennedy, Phyllis King, E. Glenwood Manicure, James E. Meador, Harry W. III Meador, Harry W. Jr. Morris, Charles E. Nixon, Bobby Polly, Brownie E. Jr. Riggs, Anne I. Ringley, Dr. Harold Robinette, Bruce K. Settle, Janet (Strunk) Short, Bobby Joe Sturgill, Imogene C. Varner, Bob Wall, Frances Wilson, Delmer Jr.

Term of Office 1982 - 1984 1970 - 1981 1981 - 1984 1985 - 1989 1996 - 2000 1970 - 1974 1989 - 1990 1991 - 1992 1999 - 2002 1989 - 1993 1984 - 1989 1982 - 1988 1985 - 1993 1989 - 1993 1985 - 1989 1970 - 1980 1970 - 1978 2001 - 2009 1980 - 1981 1975 - 1985 1981 - 1984 1993 - 2001 1997 - 2005 1970 - 1981 1993 - 1997 1990 - 1994 1993 - 1997 1978 - 1986 1992 - 2002 1994 - 1999 2000 - 2002

Interim President Member Boyce, Douglas Burke, Thomas R. Puyear, Donald

Term of Office 2001 1977 - 1977 1971, 1989 - 1990

President Member Ficker, Victor B. Sandel, Robert H. Smith, Ruth Mercedes Vaughan, George B.

Term of Office 1978 - 1987 1992 - 2001 1988 - 1991 1972 - 1977

VCCS Chancellor Member Hamel, Dana

Term of Office 1970 - 1971

This list was developed from available data. 263


Full-Time MECC Employees 1972 - 2001 Administrators Name Abbott, Michael Beaudry, Richard Blankenbecler, Timothy Bledsoe, Jearline Boatright-Wells, Sue Ella Bournazos, Florence Bralley, Harry Bullock, William (Mel) Bunting, Charles Burchett, Gary Burke, Thomas Campbell, Rickie Cantrell, Patti Carroll, Arthur Perry Carter, James Castle, Randy Collier, Louis Collier, Patricia Copenhaver, Bonny Cotham, John Darnell, Roger Day, Robert Dillon, Samuel Dockery, Penny Duffield, Charles Duncan, Helen Durham, James Durham, Peggy Edwards, George Edwards, Leslie Elosser, Bonnie Fisher, Sharon Fleenor, Angellia Garmon, John Genco, Jessica Gottschalk, Kurt Grefer, Charles Hackett, John Hancock, Hope Helms, Carolyn Hensley, Michael Johnson, David

Employment 1975 - 1977 1978 - 1980 1993 1998 1977 1972 - 1974 1984 - 1992 1972 - 2001 1987 - 1991 1972 - 1973 1976 - 1979 1990 1980 1972 - 2007 1972 - 1976 1978 - 1987 1973 - 1979, 1986 - 2006 1978 - 1980 2000 - 2005 1976 - 2006 1999 - 2001 1994 - 1997 1972 - 1974 1998 - 2010 1987 - 1999 1991 - 1993 1972 - 1999 1972 - 1997 1979 - 1984 1984 - 1985 1972 - 1977, 1997 - 2006 1987 1979 - 1986 1983 - 1985 1997 - 2009 1972 - 1977 1998 - 1999 1980 - 1984 1986 - 1996 1981 - 1992, 2000 - 2009 1980 - 1983 1987 - 1989

Kennedy, Susan Kilgore, Linda Kocher, Earl Lester, Janet Massey, Regenia McCollum, Donald McGrady, Raymond Meyer, John Milam, Todd Miller, Marla Mitchell, Sheridan Moore, Arthur Mumpower, Lee Passan, William Phillips, Mary Phillips, Richard Quesenberry, Marcia Quinley, Patrick Reynolds, Carolyn Rose, Gary Sadler, Everett Scott, Norman Smith, Victoria Stamper, Silas Stanley, Donna States, Tina Sydnor, Mary Sydow, Debbie Tinnon, Susan Turnage, Martha Wheless, Benjamin Williams, Mitzi Williams, Revonda Winebarger, Conley Yates, Kathy

1999 1979 - 1987 1976 - 1989 1978 - 1997 1995 1978 - 1982 1980 1972 - 1976 1998 - 2000 1975 - 1976 1982 - 1984 1972 - 1982 1985 - 1998 1972 - 1973 1993 1993 1985 - 1992 1978 - 1980 1977 1981 - 2001 1978 - 1991 1987 - 1994 2000 - 2003 1972 - 1973 1993 1993 - 1995 1973 - 1976 1995 - 2000 1991 1971 - 1974 1972 - 1991 1992 1972 - 1977 2001 - 2005 1987 - 1991

Faculty Name Adams, George Allgyer, William Allman, Ruben Arrington, Evelyn Bailey, Joel Baker, Michael Banner, Ed Barnes, Harvey

Employment 1973 - 1974 1972 1978 1972 - 1974 1982 1982 - 1983 1973 - 1994 1979 - 1983

264


Faculty Name Bates, Jim Bevins, Scott Blevins, James Bliese, Rhoda Borman, Rosalie Brimelow, Frank Brown, Louise Brown, Patricia Brown, Sylvia Buchanan, John Bumgarner, Gary Burgin, Ramond Burkart, Carol Burkhalter, Ann Burns, James Capps, Robert Capps, Ronald Carroll, Sandra Carter, Harold Carter, William Casteel, Brigitte Coeburn, Fred Collier, Robert Collins, Kenneth Cook, Michael Creech, Kay Crismond, Dana Crockett, Arthur Culliton, Richard Davis, Margaret (Ann) Dawson, Arthur Day, Priscilla Diem, Gordon Donley, John Doyle, Frances Eastridge, Darrell Edwards, James Estep, Eddie Fowler, Wendell Franklin, Quinton Gale, Hugh Galliher, William Gilley, Paul Golden, Kenneth Gottschalk, Jewell Greear, Thomas Greene, Roger Grubb, Leslie

Employment 1990 1993 - 2001 1972 - 2005 1982 - 2009 1980 - 1981 1986 - 1999 1974 - 2000 1986 1999 2000 - 2004 1972 - 2009 1985 - 1999 2000 1974 - 1975 1992 1972 - 1973 1972 1972 - 1980 1986 - 1991 1975 - 2003 2000 1998 1982 - 1986 1977 - 1979 1979 - 2010 1974 - 1978 1985 1977 1972 - 1973 1973 - 2008 1982 - 1983 1974 - 1975 1974 - 1978 1982 - 1985 1984 1977 - 1979 2001 1984 - 1994 1984 1972 - 1976 1985 - 1987 1999 1999 1987 - 1988 1972 - 1977 1984 - 1998 1986 1977 - 1978

1972 - 1973 Harrell, William Harrington, Alice 1987 Harris, William 1972 - 2009 Hart, Julia 1978 - 1979 Herold, James 1972 - 1974 Hicks, Leah 1981 - 2002 Holden, Walter 1976 - 1990 Holyfield, Lawrence 1982 - 1985 Jessee, Gary 1978 Jessee, Yvonne 1982 - 2009 Jones, Jane 2000 Joyce, Brent 1975 - 1984 Kashdan, Letitia 1984 - 1986 Kelley, Roberta 1986 - 1990 Kilgore, Brent 2003 - 2004 Kinum, Louis 1975 - 1978 Kiser, Gary 1979 - 1986 Kuhling, Audrey 1972 - 1973 Lane, Terri 1993 Laney, Gerald 1974 - 2002 Laws, John 1972 - 1976 Lowe, Elizabeth 1982 - 1983 Maphis, Victoria 1973 - 1974 Martin, Delaine 1984 - 1985 Maxwell, Wesley 1984 - 1987 McCracken, Clarence 1972 - 1973 Miller, Patricia 1983 - 1990 Minton, Julian 1979 - 1984 1973 Minton, Larry Moore, Charlotte 1972 - 1982 Moore, Roderick 1972 - 1974 Morrison, David 1983 - 1988 Moser, Glenn 1972 - 1974 Myers, Richard 1974 - 1977 Noonkester, Pauline (Carol)?? 1984 -1998 Ogbonnaya, Chuks 1985 1983 - 2004 Osborne, William Palmer, Robert 1976 - 1981 Patterson, David 1986 - 1999 Perkins, Martha 1987 - 2005 1982 - 1984 Phelps, Donald Poole, Robert 1973 - 1974 Pope, Acies 1972 - 1973 Powers, Roy 1976 - 2008 Qualls, Silas 1980 Quillen, Rita 1999 Ramey, Jerry 1994 Rand, Glenn 1972 - 1973 Reinholtz, William 1974 - 1976 Rhea, Robert 1992 - 1998 265


Faculty Name Rhoton, William Rice, Edra Riggs, James Ringley, Cynthia Ringley, James S. Robinson, Franklin Roden, William Rogers, Carolyn Rose, Van Rusek, Alice Peggy Scalf, Gerald Schoch, Eugene Snodgrass, Elizabeth Spencer, Bernie St. Clair, Reginald Strength, Walter Sturdza, Paltin Sumpter, Carolyn Swager, Gary Taylor, William Thompson, Roger Tucker, Kendall Volk, Russell Wells, Shirley White, Thomas Young, David

Employment 1988 - 1989 1981 - 1982 1985 - 1992 1985 1975 - 2007 1976 - 2000 1975 - 1976 1972 - 1986 1971 - 2008 1978 - 2003 1974 - 1976 1984 - 1995 1999 1973 - 1976 1978 1988 1977 - 1979 1981 1973 - 1975 1985 - 1991 1982 1991 1997 - 2001 1971 - 1979, 1982 - 2004 1974 - 1976 1979 - 1981

Staff Name Akers, Susan Alexander, Sonya Allred, Constance Anderson , Theresa Austin, Shirley (Susie) Baker, Barbara Baker, Clarence E Baker, Mary Barker, Amy Barker, Linda Barnette, Josephine Bartley, Timothy Bays, Della Beason, Cathy Bentley, Katherine Beverly, Peggy Bevins, Becky Bishop, Ronald

Employment 1980 - 1982 1987 - 1990 1980 - 1981 2001 - 2008 1999 1988 - 1991 2000 - 2004 2002 1982 - 2005 1978 1989 - 1991 1995 1984 1976 - 2004 1973 - 1975 1972 - 1987 1992 - 2004 1973 - 1975

Bledsoe, Edgar 1981 Bledsoe, James 1980 -1987 Bledsoe, Thomas E. Jr. 1978 - 1980 Bledsoe, Thomas E. Sr. 1979 Blevins, Virgil 1987 - 1992 Boggs, Vernon 1993 - 2004 Bradley, Michael 1983 - 1984 Bruner, Paula 1974 - 1977 Kiser, Gary Bryington, Cheryl 1997 Buckles, Jamie 1986 Buckles, William 1992Burke, Linda 1972 - 1977 Burnett, Lou Anne 1980 - 1982 Callahan, Sharon 1992 - 1997 Campbell, Elizabeth 1985 Carter, Deborah 1983 - 1984 Carty, Linda 1972 - 1981 Chandler, Linda 1978 - 1980 Chisenhall, Regina 1992 - 1997 Clark, Madeline 1986 - 1998 Click, Judy Charlene 1973 - 1978 Clifton, Arthur 1978 - 1985 Clifton, Gerald 1973 - 1987 Clifton, Norman 1979 - 1998 Coeburn, Sandra 1996 - 1998 Collier, Darrell 1998 - 2007 Collins, Kristy 2000 - 2002 Cooper, Brenda 1975 - 1976 Cooper, Taylor 1997 - 1999 Couch, Rebecca 1972 - 1973 1986 - 1995 Cox, Ronald Cox, Sandra 1987 - 1989 Crabtree, Sharon 1987 - 1988 Dalton, Frank 1985 - 1996 Daugherty, Etta 1972 - 1979 1995 Day, Glenn Deal, Nancy 1977 1984 - 1985 Dean, Phyllis Dean, Stephanie 1985 - 2009 Delano, Victoria 1972 - 1973 Dickenson, Leslie 1992 - 1994 Dingus, Lori 1997 1972 - 1973 Dixon, William Dorton , Kimberly 2000 Dorton, Jr., Robert 1978 Dutton, Chris 1992 Dye, Shamra 2001 Elliott, Margaret 1986 - 1987 Farmer, Mary 1988 266


Staff Name Fig, Diana Flanary, Deborah Flanary, Wilma Fritz, Landa Gabbert, Randall Gibson, James Gilbert, Russell Giles, Charles Givens, Joseph Grace, Lena Greear, Angela Greear, Mark Green, Charlotte Green, Kimberlee Green, Robin Grindstaff, Kyle Hampton, Ronald Harness, James Hatfield, Sharon Hendrick, Jamie Hicks, Aaron Hicks, Carolyn Hill, Charles Hill, Jessie Horner, Jackie Horton, James Howard, Claudia Hubbard, Suzanne Hutchinson, Robert Jackson, Arriod Jackson, Donna Jarvis, Teresa Jessee, Teresa Johnson, Emma Jones, Betty Jones, Donna Keith, Margaret Kelly, Lisa Kelly, Teresa Kennedy, Tamyra Kilgore, Sandra Kindle, David Kindle, Deborah Kinser, Deborah Kleineick, Kathryn Kocher, Christine Kocher, Ellen K. Lamb, Betty

Employment 1975 - 1979 1974 - 1975 1986 - 1991 1997 1986 - 1990 1990 - 1999 1988 1971 - 1984 1978 - 2004 1986 2000 2001 - 2003 1979 1989 - 1992 1981 - 1984 1989 - 2008 1988 - 1989 1976 - 1978 1984 - 1985 1985 2002 - 2004 1991 - 1994 1972 - 1978 1972 - 1973 1977 - 1978 1972 - 1973 1986 1982 - 1992 1987 - 1996 1986 - 1987 1999 1999 - 2000 1985 - 1988 1972 - 1973 1977 - 1979 1984 - 1999 1979 - 2003 2001 - 2002 1986 - 1988 1988 - 1991 1980 - 1984 1977 - 1979 1978 2000 - 2002 1999 1978 1984 - 1987 1974 - 1984

Lamb, Roger Lane, Ralph Large, Brenda Lawson, Catherine Lawson, Rickey Layne, Preston Livesay, Larry Lockhart, Thelma Lyons, Mary Mabe, Donna Mangeot, Karolyn Mayo, Everett McConnell, Debra McCoy, Pamela McDonough, Ernst McGuire, Debbie Meade, Karen F. Mellon, John Miller, Pamela Moore, Harriett Moore, William Mullins, D’Lisa Mumpower, Roberta Nelson, Nita Newton, Arthur Nickels, Gary Nickels, Lorrie Nolan, Annetta Parsons, Sandra (Pat) Parsons, Wanda Parton, Thelma (Jane) Pearce, Virginia Perdue, Mary Lou Pierson, Kathy Pippin, Deborah Pleasant, Frank Poole, Jack Potter, Sandra Price-Harris, Willie Rasnic, Teresa Rasnick, Doyle Rasnick, Linda Ratliff, Victoria Reynolds, Angelia Rhoton, Martha Richardson, Cheryl Rivers, Carol Robbins, Thomas Roberson, Karen 267

1981 - 1995 1973 1993 - 2007 1999 - 2005 1978 1993 1974 - 1977 1972 - 1984 1980 - 2009 1981 - 1982 1982 - 1983 1997 1992 1989 1999 1988 1992 - 2002 1989 - 1993 1983 - 1993 1987 - 1993 1987 1997 1979 - 1988 1978 - 2008 1974 - 1978 1981 1979 -1983 1973 -1975 1972 - 2003 1992 - 2003 1993 1993 - 1998 1974 - 1983 1981 1973 - 1977, 1980, 1987 1971 - 1987 1983 - 1984 1980 - 1981 1986 1986 - 1988 1972 - 1976 1974 - 1976 1984 - 1987 1992 1982 - 2005 1984 - 1991 1992 - 1999 1972 - 1973 2000 -


Staff Name Rogers, Carl Rogers, Faye Rogers, Linda Rowland, Rebecca Shell, Ramona Shelton, Donna Shuler, Jeannie Slaughter, Mary Sloce, Braccle Smith, Berthalla Smith, Shirley Spears, Marsha Spears, Rhonda Spencer, Roger Stanley, Farrell Stewart, James Stidham, Pauline Stidham, Veronica Sturgill, Joyce Sumpter, Georgia Sun, Runnan Tankersley, Debra Tucker, Harold Vandeventer, Ada Vaughan, Annetta Warner, Dennis Wells, Josephine Whisman, Gary Whitaker, Sherry Williams, Barbara Willis, Emmett Wilson, Carolyn Wilson, Charles Wilson, Glenda Wilson, Moneka Witt, Joyce Woliver, Lisa Yeary, Cynthia Young, Joseph Young, Shirley Young, Teresa

Employment 1998 1984 - 1985 1983 1997 1999 - 2000 1997 1987 1988 - 1991 1989 - 2009 1989 - 1990 1979 - 1980 1999 - 2005 1999 - 2009 1997 - 2003 1999 1994 1997 1999 - 2001 1977 - 2009 1973 - 1979 1996 - 1998 1979 - 1980 2001 - 2003 1973 - 1991 1992 - 1999 1995 1986 - 1991 1998 1992 1981 - 1985 1972 - 1976 1985 - 2003 1999 - 2003 1978 1988 - 2010 1971 - 1977 1999 1972 - 1973 1996 1988 - 1991 1991 -

President Name Ficker, Victor Sandel, Robert Smith, Ruth Vaughan, George

Employment 1978 - 1988 1992 - 2001 1988 - 1991 1971 - 1977

Artist in Residence Name Romeo, Jonathan Valentino, Vincent

Employment 1990 -1991 1990

Name Beach, Jean Bingman, Mary Carlton, Patricia Carson, Melinda Clark. Mary Lou Day, Richard Ehlers, Glenn Elkins, Cheri Ellis, Paula Ferraro, Thomas Fischer, Sue Jacques, Joseph Jones, Glenda Livingston, Mary Lynch, Bob Meade, Shirley Moore, Lucy Potter, Nancy Richardson, Alvin Vicars, Kay

Employment 1980 - 1982 1987 - 1988 1975 1987 - 1989 1981 1974 - 1975 1972 - 1973 1975 1979 - 1982 1973 - 1977 1972 1972 - 1973 1972 - 1973 1972 1977 - 1978 1972 - 1974 1974 - 1975 1975 - 1977 1975 - 1979 1976 - 1978

This list was developed from available data. 268


Annual Unduplicated Headcount and FTES From 1972-1973 to 2001-2002 1972-73 1973-74 1974-75 1975-76 1976-77 1977-78 1978-79 1979-80 1980-81 1981-82 1982-83 1983-84 1984-85 1985-86 1986-87 1987-88 1988-89 1989-90 1990-91 1991-92 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95 1995-96 1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02

Headcount 863 1,352 1,947 2,026 2,178 2,302 3,929 5,366 5,543 6,089 4,851 5,672 6,259 6,139 7,233 6,481 5,831 7,579 6,454 4,914 3,822 3,798 3,903 3,926 4,206 4,429 4,334 4,578 4,810 4,769

269

FTES 388 543 591 629 633 642 790 935 1,130 1,189 1,130 1,247 1,243 1,352 1,515 1,485 1,409 1,659 1,658 1,659 1,759 1,785 1,811 1,845 1,820 1,890 1,862 1,986 2,008 2,031


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MECC History: The First 30 Years